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1976 South Carolina Code of Laws
Unannotated
Updated through the end of the 2000 Session

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The State of South Carolina owns the copyright to the Code of Laws of South Carolina, 1976, as contained herein. Any use of the text, section headings, or catchlines of the 1976 Code is subject to the terms of federal copyright and other applicable laws and such text, section headings, or catchlines may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form or for inclusion in any material which is offered for sale or lease without the express written permission of the Chairman of the South Carolina Legislative Council or the Code Commissioner of South Carolina.

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Title 17 - Criminal Procedures

CHAPTER 5.

CORONERS AND MEDICAL EXAMINERS

ARTICLE 1.

CORONERS

SECTION 17-5-10. Election of coroner.



There shall be an election for county coroner in each county, by the qualified voters thereof, at each alternate general election reckoning from the election in the year one thousand nine hundred and forty-eight.

SECTION 17-5-20. Bond.



Before receiving his commission the coroner shall enter into bond, to be executed by him and any number of sureties, not exceeding twelve nor less than two, to be approved, recorded and filed as prescribed in Chapter 3 of Title 8. The bond shall be in the penal sum of two thousand dollars.

SECTION 17-5-30. Official oaths; commission.

Before the coroner is qualified to act he must take and subscribe the constitutional oath of office and also the additional oath required of such officer by Section 8-3-20. When a person has been elected or designated for appointment to the office of coroner and has taken and subscribed the oaths and given the bond as required by law the Governor shall issue a commission to him accordingly.

SECTION 17-5-40. Term.

The term of office of the coroner shall be four years and until his successor shall be elected or appointed and shall qualify.

SECTION 17-5-50. Vacancy.

In the event of a vacancy in the office of coroner the Governor may fill the office by appointment, as provided in Section 4-11-20.

SECTION 17-5-60. Office; book of inquisitions.

The coroner shall keep an office at the courthouse in his county which shall have proper fixtures and in which he shall keep his book of inquisitions.

The provisions of this section, as they relate to office space in the courthouse, shall not apply to Richland County.

SECTION 17-5-70. Coroner's deputies; appointment and duties.



The coroner of any county may appoint one or more deputies to be approved by the judge of the circuit or by any circuit judge presiding therein, who shall take and subscribe the oath prescribed by the Constitution prior to entering upon the duties of his appointment. The oath may be administered by any officer authorized to administer oaths in the county. The appointment must be evidenced by a certificate thereof, signed by the coroner, and shall continue during his pleasure. The coroner may take such bond and surety from his deputy as he may deem necessary to secure the faithful discharge of the duties of the appointment, but the coroner shall always be answerable for the neglect of duty or misconduct in office of such deputy. When duly qualified, as herein required, the deputy so appointed may do and perform any or all of the duties appertaining to the office of his principal.

SECTION 17-5-80. Magistrate shall act as coroner in certain cases.



Any magistrate of the county shall exercise all the powers and discharge all the duties of the coroner in holding inquests over the body of deceased persons and taking all proper proceedings therein in all cases when the coroner of the county is sick or absent or at a greater distance than fifteen miles from the place for such inquiry or when the office is vacant.

SECTION 17-5-90. Coroner shall not act under appointment of sheriff.

No coroner shall act as jailer or deputy sheriff or under any appointment by a sheriff, and if he shall accept or shall act under the appointment of the sheriff of his county his office shall be vacated and shall be filled in the manner provided by law in case of vacancy from any other cause.

SECTION 17-5-100. Coroners shall carry out orders of county governing body.

Coroners shall execute all legal orders directed to them by the respective governing bodies of their respective counties, or the chairmen thereof, and shall receive therefor the same fees and costs as are allowed in other cases.

SECTION 17-5-110. Coroner or deputy coroner may carry pistol or other handgun.

A county coroner or deputy coroner, while engaged in official duties of his office, is authorized to carry a pistol or other handgun. He is considered so engaged when going to or returning from the actual performance of his duties. However, coroners and deputy coroners must be certified and trained by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division in the proper use of handguns.

SECTION 17-5-120. Availability of medical records to coroner of another state.

Records, papers, or reports concerning the death of a person on file at any hospital, nursing home, or other medical facility in this State are available to a coroner of another state as they are to a coroner in this State if the deceased person was a resident of or is buried in the county in which the coroner serves in the other state. The release of these records to the coroner of another state is not prohibited by Chapter 3 of Title 30 or any other provision of law.

SECTION 17-5-130. Qualifications and age requirements to hold office of coroners.

(A) A coroner in this State must have the following qualifications:

(1) be a citizen of the United States;

(2) be a resident of the county in which he seeks the office of coroner for at least one year before qualifying for the election to the office;

(3) be a registered voter;

(4) attained the age of twenty-one years before the date of qualifying for election to the office;

(5) obtained a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent; and

(6) have not been convicted of a felony offense or any offense involving moral turpitude contrary to the laws of this State, any other state, or the United States.

(B) Each person serving as coroner in his first term is required to complete a basic training session to be determined by the Department of Public Safety. This basic training session must be completed no later than the end of the calendar year following his election as coroner. A person appointed to fill the unexpired term in the office of coroner must complete a basic training session to be determined by the department within one calendar year of the date of appointment. This section shall not be construed to require an individual to repeat the basic training session if he has successfully completed the session prior to his election or appointment as coroner. A coroner who is unable to attend this training session when offered because of an emergency or extenuating circumstances shall, within one year from the date the disability or cause terminates, complete the standard basic training session required of coroners. A coroner who does not fulfill the obligations of this subsection is subject to suspension by the Governor until the coroner completes the training session.

(C) A person holding the office of coroner or deputy coroner who was elected, appointed, or employed prior to January 1, 1994, and who has served continuously since that time must attend a minimum of sixteen hours training annually as may be selected by the council on or before December 31, 1995. Each year thereafter, all coroners and deputy coroners must complete a minimum of sixteen hours training annually as may be selected by the council. Certification or records of attendance or training shall be maintained as directed by the council.

(D)(1) The basis for the minimum annual requirement of in-service training is the calendar year. A coroner who satisfactorily completes the basic training session in accordance with the provisions of subsection (B) is excused from the minimum annual training requirements of subsection (C) for the calendar year in which the basic training session is completed.

(2) The Board of Directors of the South Carolina Coroners Association, in its discretion, may grant a waiver of the requirements of the annual in-service training upon presentation of evidence by a coroner that he was unable to complete the training due to an emergency or extenuating circumstances.

(3) A coroner who fails to complete the minimum annual in-service training required by this section may be suspended from office, without pay, by the Governor for ninety days. The Governor may continue to suspend a coroner until he completes the annual minimum in-service training required in this section. The Governor shall appoint, at the time of the coroner's suspension, a qualified person to perform as acting coroner during the suspension.

(E) The provisions of items (4) and (5) of subsection (A) do not apply to a coroner serving on the effective date of this section.

(F) The Director of the Department of Public Safety must appoint a Coroners Training Advisory Committee to assist in the determination of training requirements for coroners and deputy coroners. The committee shall consist of no fewer than five coroners and at least one physician trained in forensic pathology as recommended by the South Carolina Coroners Association. The members of the committee shall serve without compensation.

(G) Expenses of all training authorized or required by this section must be paid by the county the coroner or deputy coroner serves, and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Training Council is authorized to set and collect fees for such training.

SECTION 17-5-135. Authority of county coroner to authorize removal of dead body.

In counties of the State which do not have a medical examiner commission as created by Section 17-5-220, a county coroner or his deputy may authorize the removal of a body pursuant to Section 17-5-300.

SECTION 17-5-140. Coroner to notify Department of Child Fatalities of certain child deaths.

The county coroner within twenty-four hours or one working day, whichever occurs first, shall notify the department when a child dies in any county of the State:

(1) as a result of violence, when unattended by a physician, and in any suspicious or unusual manner; or

(2) when the death is unexpected and unexplained including, but not limited to, possible sudden infant death syndrome.

For the purposes of this section, a child is not considered to be "unattended by a physician" when a physician has, before death, provided diagnosis and treatment following a fatal injury.

SECTION 17-5-150. Petition by coroner for warrant to inspect home of child whose death occurred elsewhere.

If the home or premises last inhabited by a child is not the scene of the death of a child, the coroner, while conducting an investigation of the death, may petition the local magistrate of the appropriate judicial circuit for a warrant to inspect the home or premises inhabited by the deceased before death. The local magistrate shall issue the inspection warrant upon probable cause to believe that events in the home or premises may have contributed to the death of the child.

ARTICLE 3.

MEDICAL EXAMINERS

SECTION 17-5-210. Definitions.

As used in this article:

(1) The term "cause of death" shall refer to the agent which has directly or indirectly resulted in a death.

(2) The term "manner of death" shall refer to the means or fatal agency that caused a death. Manner of death shall be classified in one of the five following categories: A. natural, B. accident, C. homicide, D. suicide, E. undetermined.

(3) The term "post-mortem examination" shall mean examination after death and shall include an examination of the dead body and surroundings by the medical examiner but shall not include dissection of the body for any purpose.

(4) The term "autopsy" shall mean the dissection of a dead body and the removal and examination of bone, tissue, organs and foreign objects for the purpose of determining the cause and the manner of such death.

(5) the term "inquest" shall mean an official judicial inquiry before a coroner and coroner's jury for the purpose of determining the manner of death.

(6) The term "county medical examiner" shall refer to the licensed physician or pathologist designated by the county medical examiner's commission pursuant to this article for the purpose of performing post-mortem examinations, autopsies, and examinations of other forms of evidence required by this article.

(7) The term "deputy medical examiner" shall mean a licensed physician employed by the county medical examiner, with the approval of the commission, to perform post-mortem examinations, autopsies, and examinations of other forms of evidence as required by this article.

(8) The term "laboratory" shall mean a laboratory containing facilities for the scientific detection and identification of physical evidence connected with crimes and causes of death and such other examinations of tissue, chemical substances and gases that will contribute to the health and well-being of all people.

(9) The term "peace officer in charge" shall mean members of the county, city, or town policemen, county, city, or town detectives, South Carolina Highway Patrol or South Carolina Law Enforcement Division who may be in charge of the investigation of any case involving a death covered by this article.

SECTION 17-5-220. Establishment and functions of medical examiner commissions in certain counties.

A county with a population of one hundred thousand or more, according to the last official United States census, may establish by appropriate implementing resolution, a commission to be known as the medical examiner commission of that county, composed of five members, one of whom must be the chief administrative officer of the county health department who is a permanent member, and four of whom must be appointed by the Governor upon recommendation of the county legislative delegation. The initial terms of the appointive members are as follows: one member for a term of one year, one member for a term of two years, one member for a term of three years, and one member for a term of four years. After the initial terms, all members shall serve for terms of four years. The effective date of appointments is July first with terms expiring on June thirtieth. The members shall serve without compensation. The length of the terms of those who serve first must be determined by lot at the first meeting of the commission.

The commission shall meet as soon as practicable after appointment and shall organize itself by electing one of its members as chairman and other officers as may be considered necessary. After this first meeting, the commission shall meet at least every six months and more often as its duties require upon the call of the chairman or a majority of its members.

The commission is authorized to adopt and promulgate regulations as it may consider necessary.

SECTION 17-5-230. Medical examiner commission shall employ county medical examiner; duties; assistants; facilities.

The commission shall employ a skilled physician or pathologist as county medical examiner for the purpose of performing postmortem examinations, autopsies, and the examination of other forms of evidence as required by this article. The county medical examiner shall with the approval of the commission employ such assistants as are necessary to carry out the purposes of this article. The commission shall provide the county medical examiner with facilities for proper pathological, toxicological and other laboratory examinations as may be required in the performance of his duties.

The commission may enter into an agreement for the use of the laboratory facilities as may be necessary.

SECTION 17-5-240. Employment and duties of deputy medical examiners.

The county medical examiner is empowered, in addition to those powers granted in Section 17-5-330, to employ with the approval of the commission qualified physicians on a full-time or part-time or per diem basis who, as deputy medical examiners, shall carry out the instructions of the county medical examiner and act in his absence or disqualification.

SECTION 17-5-250. Power to determine that autopsy shall be made.

The county medical examiner or any deputy medical examiner shall have the power to determine that an autopsy shall be made in addition to the powers vested in other law-enforcement officials to order an autopsy.

SECTION 17-5-260. Duty to notify medical examiner of certain deaths and stillbirths; inquiry and findings of medical examiner.

If a person dies as a result of violence, apparent suicide, when in apparent good health, unattended by a physician, or in any suspicious or unusual manner or while an inmate of a penal or correctional institution or stillbirths not attended by a physician, a person having knowledge of the death immediately shall notify the county medical examiner's office. This procedure also must be followed upon discovery of anatomical material suspected of being or determined to be a part of a human body.

The county medical examiner shall make immediate inquiry into the cause and manner of death and shall reduce the findings to writing on forms provided for this purpose retaining one copy and forwarding one copy to the coroner. In the case of violent death, one copy must be forwarded to the county solicitor of the county in which the death occurred. The county medical examiner must notify in writing the deceased person's next-of-kin, if known, that, in the course of performing the autopsy, body parts may have been retained for the purpose of investigating the cause and manner of death.

In performing an autopsy or postmortem examination, no body parts, as defined in Section 44-43-320, removed from the body may be used for any purpose other than to determine the cause or manner of death unless the person authorized to consent, as defined in Section 44-43-330, has given informed consent to the procedure. The person giving the informed consent must be given the opportunity to give informed consent and authorize the procedure on a witnessed, written consent form using language understandable to the average lay person after face-to-face communication with a physician, coroner, or medical examiner about the procedure. If the person authorizing the procedure is unable to consent in person, consent may be given through a recorded telephonic communication.

SECTION 17-5-265. County medical examiner to notify Department of Child Fatalities of certain child deaths.

The county medical examiner within twenty-four hours or one working day, whichever occurs first, shall notify the department when a child dies in any county of the State:

(1) as a result of violence, when unattended by a physician, and in any suspicious or unusual manner; or

(2) when the death is unexpected and unexplained including, but not limited to, possible sudden infant death syndrome.

For the purposes of this section, a child is not considered to be "unattended by a physician" when a physician has, before death, provided diagnosis and treatment following a fatal injury.

SECTION 17-5-270. Certification of cause of death; procedures for execution and signing.

The county medical examiner or his deputy shall, in any case investigated, complete and sign the medical certification portion of the death certificate within twenty-four hours after being notified of the death.

The county medical examiner shall at the time of releasing a body to a funeral director or person acting as such, or as soon as practical thereafter, execute and sign the medical certification of the cause of death on the prescribed form.

In any case where autopsy is scheduled and the county medical examiner wishes to await its gross findings to confirm a tentative clinical finding, he shall give the funeral director notice as to when he expects to have the medical data necessary for the certification of cause of death. If the certificate cannot be signed within the prescribed time set forth, then the county medical examiner shall indicate that the cause of death is pending and sign the certification accordingly. Immediately after the medical data necessary for determining the cause of death has been made known, the county medical examiner shall, over his signature, forward the cause of death to the registrar and notify the funeral director involved that such action has been taken.

SECTION 17-5-275. Petition by medical examiner for warrant to inspect home of child whose death occurred elsewhere.

If the home or premises last inhabited by a child is not the scene of the death of a child, the medical examiner, while conducting an investigation of the death, may petition the appropriate magistrate for a warrant to inspect the home or premises inhabited by the deceased before death. The magistrate shall issue the inspection warrant upon probable cause to believe that events in the home or premises may have contributed to the death of the child.

SECTION 17-5-280. Records to be kept in office of medical examiner; index; copies; admissibility in evidence.

The office of the county medical examiner shall keep complete indexed records of all deaths investigated, containing all relevant information concerning the death, and the autopsy report if made. Any prosecuting attorney or law enforcement officer may secure copies of such records or information necessary to him for the performance of his official duties. Copies of such records or information shall be furnished upon request to any party to whom the cause of death is a material issue.

Reports of post-mortem examinations and autopsies and copies of records, photographs, laboratory findings and reports in the office of the county medical examiner when duly attested by such officer or his assistant shall be received as evidence in any court or other proceedings for any purpose for which the original could be received without any proof of the official character of the person whose name is signed thereto.

SECTION 17-5-290. Identification, preservation and disposition of dead bodies.

(A) After the postmortem examination, autopsy, or inquest has been completed, the dead body must be released to the person legally entitled to it for burial. If no person claims the body, the county medical examiner or his deputy shall notify the board created pursuant to Section 44-43-510. If that board does not accept the body, it must be turned over to the coroner of the county where death occurred for disposition as provided by law. If the deceased has an estate out of which burial expenses can be paid either in whole or in part, the estate must be taken for that purpose before an expense under this section is imposed upon a county.

(B) If the body cannot be identified through reasonable efforts, the coroner shall forward the body to the Medical University of South Carolina or other suitable facility for preservation. The body must be preserved for not less than thirty days, unless the body is identified within that time. If the body has not been identified at the end of that time, the Medical University may retain possession of the body for its use and benefit or return the body to the coroner of the county where death occurred for disposition as provided by law. A facility other than the Medical University utilized by the coroner for storage of an unidentified body may dispose of the body as provided by law or return the body to the coroner of the county where death occurred for disposition.

(C) If an unidentified body is preserved at the Medical University, the county is responsible for transporting the body to and from the Medical University; however, the county is not responsible for the cost of preserving the body at the Medical University. If an unidentified body is preserved at the Medical University, the Medical University must absorb the cost of preserving the body for not less than thirty days.

SECTION 17-5-300. Unauthorized removal of dead body; impanelling coroner's jury.

(a) It is unlawful for any person to move or authorize removal of a body from the place where the body is found until the investigation is completed and such removal is authorized by the county medical examiner or the deputy medical examiner in charge.

(b) It is unlawful for any person to move or transport a body across the county line until the investigation of the case, the postmortem examination, or autopsy is complete and until removal of the body is authorized by the county medical examiner or one of his designated assistants.

Any person who violates this subsection is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine of not less than five hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than sixty days, or both.

(c) If a county does not have a medical examiner commission as created by Section 17-5-220, authorization for removal of a body must be obtained from the county coroner or a deputy county coroner.

(d) No coroner's jury shall be impaneled until the investigation is completed and copies of the reports of the county medical examiner and peace officer in charge are received by the coroner. The jury is not required to view the body.

SECTION 17-5-305. Burial required for remains of unidentified dead person.

If the body of a dead person is unidentifiable, the remains may not be cremated for at least thirty days. The medical examiner or coroner shall have the remains buried or interred in a cemetery in the county in which the remains were found.

SECTION 17-5-310. Permit required for cremation.

When the body of any dead person who died in the county is to be cremated, whoever required the cremation shall secure a permit for the cremation from the county medical examiner or the medical examiner's deputy or the coroner or the deputy coroner, and a person who wilfully fails to secure a permit for cremation is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not less than twenty dollars and not more than five hundred dollars. A permit for cremation promptly must be acted upon by the county medical examiner or the examiner's deputy or the coroner.

SECTION 17-5-320. Duty to notify coroner or medical examiner when body is buried without investigation.

If in a case of sudden, violent, or suspicious death the body is buried without an investigation by the county medical examiner or by the examiner's deputy medical examiner or by the coroner or deputy coroner, a person having knowledge of this fact shall notify the coroner or the county medical examiner.

SECTION 17-5-330. Salaries and fees; annual budget.

The commission shall fix the salary of the county medical examiner. The county medical examiner, with the approval of the county medical examiner commission, shall fix the salaries of the deputy medical examiners and all employees in the charge of the county medical examiner and all fees paid for toxocological examinations and other tests and examinations required. The annual budget for the operation of the county medical examiner system shall be submitted to and approved by county council.





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