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Prosecuting Attorney

County Coroner

BACKGROUND

In small counties such as San Juan, the duties of the County coroner are combined with the prosecuting attorney.

The coroner is responsible for investigating and certifying the cause of death in those cases where death is sudden, unexpected, or the result of an accident or unlawful means.

Randall K. Gaylord and Charles Silverman are available 24/7 to respond to a death, and to investigate and answer questions.

Because we are trained as lawyers, not doctors, we rely on the assistance of many others to accomplish our work. We coordinate with sheriff deputies, local doctors and medical staff, hospice workers, forensic pathologists, regional medical examiners, investigators, and family members and next of kin.

There is no morgue in San Juan County and the coroner has no vehicles or equipment. The remains of deceased persons within the jurisdiction of the coroner are transported by Evans Funeral Home of Anacortes or the Snohomish County Medical Examiner.

If an autopsy is necessary to determine the cause of death, the procedure takes place at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner facility in Everett.

In cooperation with local doctors, the coroner does not assume jurisdiction in those cases where death is anticipated due to natural causes or disease. This office has implemented a procedure known as NJA ("No Jurisdiction Assumed") which requires a caregiver to obtain a signed statement from the treating physician and provide that statement to the coroner before death. A copy of the NJA form is provided below.

REPORTING A DEATH TO THE CORONER

AS PER RCW 68.50.020:

Every person who knows of the existence or location of a dead body must notify the coroner in the most expeditious manner, unless the person knows that the coroner has already been given notice of the death. Persons who do not report the existence of a dead body to the coroner are guilty of a misdemeanor. In San Juan County notification is usually made by calling the sheriff's dispatcher at 360-378-4151.

JURISDICTION

PER RCW 68.50.010:

A coroner investigates the cause and manner of death of persons within his or her jurisdiction. A coroner has jurisdiction over dead bodies only. A coroner does not have jurisdiction over surviving persons who are found near death or unconscious. The local law enforcement agencies have the jurisdiction to investigate these matters.

There are two types of jurisdiction that concern a coroner and the requirements of both types must be met before a coroner has valid jurisdiction. A coroner's legal jurisdiction is the jurisdiction authorized by the legislature and the Washington courts' interpretation of the statutes. A coroner's geographic jurisdiction is limited to the boundaries of the county in which he or she has been elected or appointed. Geographic jurisdiction is determined by the place where the death occurs or where the body is found, not by the place where the mortal incident occurs.

TYPES OF DEATHS TO BE REPORTED TO THE CORONER

AS PER RCW 68.50.010:

The coroner is given jurisdiction over all bodies of deceased persons when one or more of the following circumstances apply:

  1. Persons who die suddenly when in apparent good health and without medical attention within the thirty-six hours preceding death;
  2. Circumstances indicate death caused entirely, or in part, by unnatural or unlawful means;
  3. Suspicious circumstances;
  4. Unknown or obscure causes;
  5. Deaths caused by any violence whatsoever, whether the primary cause or any contributory factor in the death;
  6. Contagious disease;
  7. Bodies that are not claimed; or
  8. Premature and stillborn infants.

NO JURISDICTION ASSUMED CASES

AS PER RCW 68.50.010:

Upon receiving the report of a death, the coroner determines whether or not to assume jurisdiction of that death. The coroner will assume jurisdiction of all deaths involving any type of trauma, accident, or violence.

"No Jurisdiction Assumed" (NJA) cases are most frequently those in which the deceased was without medical care for thirty-six hours preceding death and death is thought to be from natural causes. The coroner's office may apply a narrow interpretation of the legislative language "persons who come to their death suddenly when in apparent good health without medical attendance within the thirty-six hours preceding death." If both conditions (lack of medical care and apparent good health) apply, it is clearly an unexpected death and the coroner must assume jurisdiction. If one or both conditions do not apply, the case may be placed in the NJA category.

In order to qualify as an "NJA" case, there must be an attending outside physician who has knowledge and awareness of the patient's natural disease condition and is therefore able to reasonably certify the cause of death. The physician is responsible for certifying death on all NJA cases.

After receiving a report of a death, a coroner must determine whether or not to assume jurisdiction of the case. If the coroner decides not to take jurisdiction, that case may follow a "No Jurisdiction Assumed" procedure. Every NJA case should be given a local coroner NJA number. In certain counties, Vital Statistics of the local health department may not clear the death certificate without the NJA number.

FORMS


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