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Title 17 - Criminal Procedures
CORONERS AND MEDICAL EXAMINERS
SECTION 17-5-5. Definitions.
As used in this chapter:
(1) "Autopsy" means 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 of death and manner of death;
(2) "Cause of death" refers to the agent that has directly or indirectly resulted in a death;
(3) "Coroner" means the person elected or serving as the county coroner pursuant to Section 24 of Article V of the South Carolina Constitution, 1895, this chapter, and Chapter 7 of Title 17;
(4) "Medical examiner" means the licensed physician or pathologist designated by the county medical examiner's commission pursuant to Article 5 of this chapter for the purpose of performing post-mortem examinations, autopsies, and examinations of other forms of evidence required by this chapter;
(5) "Deputy coroner" means a person appointed pursuant to Section 17-5-70;
(6) "Deputy medical examiner" means a licensed physician employed by the 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 chapter;
(7) "Inquest" means an official judicial inquiry before a coroner and coroner's jury for the purpose of determining the manner of death;
(8) "Laboratory" means a laboratory containing facilities for the scientific detection and identification of physical evidence connected with crimes and causes of death and other examinations of tissue, chemical substances, and gases that contribute to the health and well-being of all people;
(9) "Manner of death" refers to the means or fatal agency that caused a death. Manner of death is classified in one of the five following categories: A. natural, B. accident, C. homicide, D. suicide, and E. undetermined;
(10) "Peace officer in charge" means 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 chapter;
(11) "Post-mortem examination" means examination after death and includes an examination of the dead body and surroundings by the medical examiner but does not include dissection of the body for any purpose.
SECTION 17-5-10. Election of coroner.
There must be an election for coroner by the qualified voters in each county at each alternate general election beginning with the election in the year 1948.
SECTION 17-5-20. Bond.
Before receiving his commission, the coroner must post a bond, to be executed by him and at least two sureties, but not more than twelve, to be approved, recorded, and filed as prescribed in Chapter 3 of Title 8. The bond must 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 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 must issue a commission to him accordingly.
SECTION 17-5-40. Term.
A coroner shall serve a term of office for four years and until his successor is elected or appointed and qualifies.
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 must keep a public office in his county which must have proper fixtures and in which he must keep his book of inquisitions.
SECTION 17-5-70. Coroner's deputies; appointment and duties.
A county coroner may appoint one or more deputies to be approved by the judge of the circuit or by any circuit judge presiding therein, who must take and subscribe the oath prescribed by the Constitution prior to entering upon the duties of appointment as a deputy coroner. 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 continue at the coroner's pleasure. The coroner may take a bond and surety from his deputy as he considers necessary to secure the faithful discharge of the duties of the appointment, but the coroner must always be answerable for the neglect of duty or misconduct in office of his deputy coroner. When duly qualified, as herein required, the deputy coroner may do and perform any or all of the duties appertaining to the office of the coroner.
SECTION 17-5-80. Magistrate shall act as coroner in certain cases.
Any magistrate of the county must 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 when the coroner of the county is sick, absent, 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 may act as jailer or deputy sheriff or under any appointment by a sheriff, and if he accepts or acts under the appointment of the sheriff of his county, the coroner's office must be vacated and must 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 must execute all lawful orders directed to them by the respective governing bodies of their respective counties, or the chairmen thereof, and must receive 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 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 4 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 must 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 must, 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 South Carolina Law Enforcement Training 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 must 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 must 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 April 20, 1995, during his tenure in office.
(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 must 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 must 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 this training.
SECTION 17-5-220. Establishment and functions of medical examiner commissions in certain counties.
A county with a population of 100,000 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 serve for terms of four years. The effective date of appointments is July first with terms expiring on June thirtieth. The members must 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 must meet as soon as practicable after appointment and must organize itself by electing one of its members as chairman and other officers as may be considered necessary. After this first meeting, the commission must 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 medical examiner; duties; assistants; facilities.
The commission must employ a skilled physician or pathologist as medical examiner for the purpose of performing post-mortem examinations, autopsies, and the examination of other forms of evidence as required by this chapter. The medical examiner must, with the approval of the commission, employ such assistants as are necessary to carry out the purposes of this chapter. The commission must provide the medical examiner with facilities for proper pathological, toxicological, and other laboratory examinations as may be required in the performance of the medical examiner's 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.
In addition to those powers granted in Section 17-5-330, the medical examiner is empowered to employ with the approval of the commission qualified physicians on a full-time, part-time, or per diem basis who, as deputy medical examiners, must carry out the instructions of the medical examiner and act in his absence or disqualification. A deputy medical examiner may do and perform any or all of the duties appertaining to the office of the medical examiner.
SECTION 17-5-280. Records to be kept in office of medical examiner; index; copies; admissibility in evidence.
The medical examiner's office must 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 these records or information necessary for the performance of his official duties. Copies of such records or information must be furnished upon request to any party to whom the cause of death is a material issue.
Reports of post-mortem examinations, autopsies, copies of records, photographs, laboratory findings, and reports in the office of the county medical examiner when duly attested by the medical examiner or his assistant must 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 17-5-330. Salaries and fees; annual budget.
The commission must fix the salary of the medical examiner. The medical examiner, with the approval of the county medical examiner commission, must fix (1) the salaries of the deputy medical examiners and all employees in the charge of the medical examiner and (2) all fees paid for toxocological examinations and other tests and examinations required. The annual budget for the operation of the medical examiner system must be submitted to and approved by the county governing body.
DUTIES OF CORONERS AND MEDICAL EXAMINERS
SECTION 17-5-510. Duties of coroner and medical examiner.
In counties which have both a coroner and a medical examiner: (1) the coroner has the ultimate responsibility for carrying out the duties required by this article; and (2) the medical examiner's duties must be specified in an annual written contract between the county governing body and the medical examiner.
SECTION 17-5-520. Coroner or medical examiner may order an autopsy.
In addition to the powers vested in other law enforcement officials to order an autopsy, the coroner or medical examiner is authorized to determine that an autopsy be made.
SECTION 17-5-530. Duty to notify coroner's or medical examiner's office of certain deaths and stillbirths; inquiry; findings; notification of next-of-kin; consent for certain actions.
(A) If a person dies:
(1) as a result of violence;
(2) as a result of apparent suicide;
(3) when in apparent good health;
(4) when unattended by a physician;
(5) in any suspicious or unusual manner;
(6) while an inmate of a penal or correctional institution; or
(7) as a result of stillbirth when unattended by a physician;
a person having knowledge of the death immediately must notify the county coroner's or 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.
(B) The coroner or medical examiner must make an immediate inquiry into the cause and manner of death and must reduce the findings to writing on forms provided for this purpose. If the inquiry is made by a medical examiner, the medical examiner must retain one copy of the form and forward 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.
(C) The coroner or 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.
(D) In performing an autopsy or post-mortem 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 17-5-535. Persons authorized to view photographs or videos of autopsy; training use exception; penalty.
(A) Photographs, videos, or other visual images and audio recordings of or related to the performance of an autopsy shall only be viewed by or disseminated to:
(1) the coroner or the medical examiner, or both, and their staff;
(2) members of law enforcement agencies, for official use only;
(3) parents of the deceased, surviving spouse, children, guardian, personal representative next of kin, and any other person given permission or authorization to view or possess the visual images by the personal representative of the deceased's estate;
(4) those involved in a judicial or administrative proceeding related to the death of the subject of the photograph, video, other visual image or audio recordings including, but not limited to:
(a) parties to a civil suit arising from, related to, or relevant to the death or autopsy of the subject of the photograph, video, other visual image or audio recordings, and the attorneys for the parties and the staff of the attorneys;
(b) a person charged with a crime arising from, related to or relevant to the death or autopsy of the subject of the photograph, video, other visual image or audio recordings, and the person's attorney and the staff of the attorney;
(c) staff of the prosecutor's office considering or prosecuting criminal charges arising from, related to or relevant to the death or autopsy of the subject of the photograph, video, other visual image or audio recordings;
(d) lay and expert witnesses conferred with, consulted or retained by a party or an attorney considering or involved in a legal or administrative proceeding arising from, related to or relevant to the death or autopsy of the subject of the photograph, video, other visual image or audio recordings;
(e) judges and administrative hearing officers, as well as their staff, involved in a judicial or administrative proceeding arising from, related to or relevant to the death or autopsy of the subject of the photograph, video, other visual image or audio recordings; and
(f) members of any jury, including grand juries, petit juries and coroner's juries, empanelled to hear or decide any issue arising from, related to or relevant to the death or autopsy of the subject of the photograph, video, other visual image or audio recordings;
(5) physicians and other persons consulted by or supervising the physicians or persons who were involved in the performance of the autopsy of the subject of the photograph, video, other visual images, or audio recordings; and
(6) a person who receives such photographs, videos, or other visual images pursuant to a validly issued court order, after notice and opportunity to object are provided to the personal representative of the deceased's estate.
These photographs and videos must be released and disseminated only as authorized by this section.
(B) Notwithstanding the provisions contained in subsection (A), a photograph, video, other visual image of an autopsy, or an audio recording of an autopsy, or a combination of each of these items, after all information immediately identifying the decedent has been redacted and after making facial recognition anonymous to the extent reasonably possible if lawfully obtained or possessed may be used for:
(1) legitimate medical scientific teaching or training purposes;
(2) legitimate teaching or training of law enforcement personnel;
(3) teaching or training of attorneys or other individuals with a professional need to use or understand forensic science or public health;
(4) conferring with medical or scientific experts in the field of forensic science or public health; or
(5) publication in a scientific or medical or legal journal or textbook.
(C) A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not less than five thousand dollars nor more than fifty thousand dollars. Each violation under this section must be considered a separate offense.
SECTION 17-5-540. Coroner or medical examiner to notify Department of Child Fatalities of certain child deaths.
The coroner or medical examiner, within twenty-four hours or one working day, whichever occurs first, must notify the Department of Child Fatalities when a child dies in the county he serves:
(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 17-5-550. Coroner or medical examiner may petition 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 or medical examiner, 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 must 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 17-5-555. Reporting certain deaths of vulnerable adults.
(A) The coroner or medical examiner, within twenty- four hours or one working day, whichever occurs first, must notify the Vulnerable Adults Investigations Unit of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division or appropriate law enforcement when a vulnerable adult dies in the county he serves:
(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.
(B) If the home or premises last inhabited by a vulnerable adult is not the scene of the death of the vulnerable adult, the coroner or medical examiner, 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 must issue the inspection warrant upon probable cause to believe that events in the home or premises may have contributed to the death of the vulnerable adult.
(C) For purposes of this section:
(1) "vulnerable adult" has the same meaning as defined in Section 43-35-10(11);
(2) a vulnerable adult is not considered to be "unattended by a physician" when a physician has, before death, provided diagnosis and treatment following a fatal injury;
(3) "unexpected death" includes all vulnerable adult deaths that, before investigation, appear possibly to have been caused by trauma, suspicious, or obscure circumstances, or abuse or neglect.
SECTION 17-5-560. Certification of cause of death on death certificate.
(A) The coroner, deputy coroner, medical examiner, or deputy medical examiner must, 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.
(B) The coroner or medical examiner must, at the time of releasing a body to a funeral director or person acting as a funeral director, or as soon as practical after releasing the body, execute and sign the medical certification of the cause of death on the prescribed form.
(C) In any case where autopsy is scheduled and the coroner or medical examiner wishes to await its gross findings to confirm a tentative clinical finding, the coroner or medical examiner must 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, the coroner or medical examiner must 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 coroner or medical examiner must, over his signature, forward the cause of death to the registrar and notify the funeral director involved that this action has been taken.
(D) As used in this section, the terms "sign", " signed", or "signature" mean a written signature or an electronic signature authorized in the Electronic Commerce Act, Chapter 5, Title 26.
SECTION 17-5-570. Release and burial of dead bodies; preservation and disposition of unidentified dead bodies.
(A) After the post-mortem examination, autopsy, or inquest has been completed, the dead body must be released to the person lawfully entitled to it for burial. If no person claims the body, the coroner or medical examiner must notify the board created pursuant to Section 44-43-510. If the board does not accept the body, the body 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 must 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 17-5-580. Authorization for removal of dead body; penalties; coroner's jury.
(A)(1) 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 the removal is authorized by the coroner, deputy coroner, medical examiner, or deputy medical examiner in charge.
(2) It is unlawful for any person to move or transport a body across the county line until the investigation of the case, the post-mortem examination, or autopsy is complete and until removal of the body is authorized by the coroner or medical examiner or one of the coroner's or medical examiner's designated assistants.
(3) Any person who violates this subsection is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must 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.
(B) No coroner's jury may 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 17-5-590. Disposition of remains of unidentified dead bodies.
If the body of a dead person is unidentifiable, the remains may not be cremated for at least thirty days. The coroner or medical examiner must have the remains buried or interred in a cemetery in the county in which the remains were found.
SECTION 17-5-600. Permit required for cremation.
When the body of any dead person who died in the county is to be cremated, the person who has requested the cremation must secure a permit for the cremation from the coroner, deputy coroner, medical examiner, or deputy medical examiner. 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 coroner or medical examiner.
SECTION 17-5-610. Duty to notify coroner or medical examiner in certain cases when body is buried without investigation.
If in a case of sudden, violent, or suspicious death a body is buried without an investigation by the coroner or medical examiner, a person having knowledge of this fact must notify the coroner or the medical examiner.