Coroner - inquiry - grounds - postmortem - jury - certificate of death
(1) The responding law enforcement agency shall notify the coroner when a death is discovered or confirmed as soon as practicable after the scene is safe and secure. The coroner shall immediately notify the district attorney or his or her designee if by prior agreement, and then at his or her discretion proceed to the scene to view the body. Upon arrival of the coroner, law enforcement shall make all reasonable accommodations to allow the coroner to collect time-sensitive information such as body and scene temperature, lividity, and rigor. The coroner, in cooperation with law enforcement, shall make all proper inquiry in order to determine the cause and manner of death of any person in his or her jurisdiction who has died under any of the following circumstances:
(a) If the death is or may be unnatural as a result of external influences, violence, or injury;
(a.3) Due to the influence of or the result of intoxication by alcohol, drugs, or poison;
(a.5) As a result of an accident, including at the workplace;
(a.7) When the death of an infant or child is unexpected or unexplained;
(b) When no physician is in attendance or when, though in attendance, the physician is unable to certify the cause of death;
(c) From a death that occurs within twenty-four hours of admission to a hospital;
(e) From a disease which may be hazardous or contagious or which may constitute a threat to the health of the general public;
(f) If the death occurs from the action of a peace officer or while in the custody of law enforcement officials or while incarcerated in a public institution;
(g) When the death was sudden and happened to a person who was in apparent good health;
(h) When a body is unidentifiable, decomposed, charred, or skeletonized; or
(i) Circumstances that the coroner otherwise determines may warrant further inquiry to determine cause and manner of death or further law enforcement investigation.
(1.1) The coroner shall request that jurisdiction of a death be transferred to the coroner of the county in which the event which resulted in the death of the person occurred, with the jurisdiction effective upon the acceptance by the receiving coroner. The transfer shall be in writing, and a copy thereof shall be maintained in the offices of the transferring and receiving coroners. The district attorney from each county involved in the transfer shall be contacted prior to the transfer unless prior agreements have been established.
(1.2) (a) When a person dies as a result of circumstances specified in subsection (1) of this section or is found dead and the cause of death is unknown, the person who discovers the death shall report it immediately to law enforcement officials or the coroner, and the coroner shall take legal custody of the body.
(b) The body of any person who dies as a result of circumstances specified in subsection (1) of this section shall not be removed from the place of death prior to the arrival of the coroner or his or her designee or without the authority of the coroner or his or her designee unless it is necessary to identify the victim, to protect the property from damage or destruction, or to preserve and protect evidence, or protect life, health, or safety. The coroner, in consultation with the district attorney or local law enforcement agency, shall facilitate the timely removal of the body to preserve and protect evidence. The coroner may order the removal of the body for further investigation or release the body to the next of kin if no further investigation is required by law enforcement.
(c) If a suicide note related to the death is found at the place of death, the coroner or law enforcement agency according to a prior agreement shall take custody of the note as well as any other documentation related to the cause or manner of death as is appropriate. If there is no prior agreement, law enforcement shall have the authority to take custody of the suicide note and shall provide a copy of the suicide note to the coroner. The coroner shall have the authority to view the suicide note prior to receiving a copy.
(d) In the case of a noncriminal investigation, the coroner in collaboration with local law enforcement shall identify the deceased, determine the deceased's next of kin, and notify the appropriate next of kin or other persons of the death.
(e) In the case of a noncriminal investigation, in order to assist with the identification of the deceased, location and identity of next of kin, and determination of the cause and manner of death, the coroner, in cooperation with law enforcement, has the authority to collect, examine, and store, or request law enforcement to collect, examine, and store, any documents, evidence, or information, including information available in electronic devices such as phones or computers subject to the limitations in the fourth amendment to the United States constitution and section 7 of article II of the Colorado constitution.
(f) When in the course of a coroner investigation, a death becomes suspicious or the possibility of criminal activity arises, the coroner shall immediately consult with the district attorney and law enforcement in the jurisdiction where the events that caused the death occurred.
(g) In the case of a noncriminal investigation, the coroner may take custody of prescription medications dispensed to the deceased to assist in determining the cause and manner of death subject to the limitations in the fourth amendment to the United States constitution and section 7 of article II of the Colorado constitution. The coroner shall properly document, store, and dispose of the medications or request law enforcement to document, store, and dispose of the medications.
(2) The coroner or his or her designee shall perform a forensic autopsy or have a forensic autopsy performed as required by section 30-10-606.5 or upon the request of the district attorney. Failure to comply with this section may be prosecuted as a violation of section 18-8-405, C.R.S.
(2.5) In the case of a noncriminal investigation, the coroner, in cooperation with the public administrator if applicable, may take appropriate measures to safeguard the property and its contents. The coroner may charge the costs of securing the premises against the estate of the deceased. A coroner who secures or safeguards the property and its contents is immune from civil liability for damage to or loss of the property or its contents.
(2.7) A coroner shall comply with information requests for statistical or research purposes from the department of public health and environment and the department of transportation.
(3) When the coroner has knowledge that any person has died under any of the circumstances specified in subsection (1) of this section, he may summon forthwith six citizens of the county to appear at a place named to hold an inquest to hear testimony and to make such inquiries as he deems appropriate.
(4) (a) In all cases where the coroner has held an investigation or inquest, the certificate of death shall be issued by the coroner.
(b) Any certificate of death issued by a coroner shall be filed with the registrar and shall state the findings concerning the nature of the disease or the manner of death, and, if from external causes, the certificate shall state the manner of death. In addition, the certificate shall include the information described in section 25-2-103 (3)(b), C.R.S., whenever the subject of the investigation or inquest is under one year of age.
(c) A copy of the certificate of death or affidavit of presumed death, including any related documents and statements of fact, shall be retained indefinitely in the applicable county in a secure location in an appropriate county facility accessible only to the county coroner or the coroner's designee and in a manner that is consistent with the county's record retention policy and federal law.
(5) Nothing in this section shall be construed to require an investigation, autopsy, or inquest in any case where death occurred without medical attendance solely because the deceased was under treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone in accordance with the tenets and practices of a well-recognized church or religious denomination.
(6) (a) Notwithstanding sections 12-43-218 and 13-90-107 (1)(d) or (1)(g), C.R.S., the coroner holding an inquest or investigation pursuant to this section has the authority to request and receive a copy of:
(I) Any autopsy report or medical information from any pathologist, physician, dentist, hospital, or health care provider or institution if such report or information is relevant to the inquest or investigation; and
(II) Any information, record, or report related to treatment, consultation, counseling, or therapy services from any licensed psychologist, professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, social worker, or addiction counselor, certified addiction counselor, registered psychotherapist, psychologist candidate registered pursuant to section 12-43-304 (7), C.R.S., marriage and family therapist candidate registered pursuant to section 12-43-504 (5), C.R.S., licensed professional counselor candidate registered pursuant to section 12-43-603 (5), C.R.S., or person described in section 12-43-215, C.R.S., if the report, record, or information is relevant to the inquest or investigation.
(b) The coroner or his or her designee shall, at the request of the district attorney or attorney general, release to the district attorney or attorney general any autopsy report or medical information described in subparagraph (I) of paragraph (a) of this subsection (6) that the coroner obtains pursuant to paragraph (a) of this subsection (6).
(c) The coroner or his or her designee shall not release to any party any information, record, or report described in subparagraph (II) of paragraph (a) of this subsection (6) that the coroner obtains pursuant to paragraph (a) of this subsection (6).
(d) Any person who complies with a request from a coroner or his or her designee pursuant to paragraph (a) of this subsection (6) shall be immune from any civil or criminal liability that might otherwise be incurred or imposed with respect to the disclosure of confidential patient or client information.
Source: G.L. 511. G.S. 615. L. 1887: p. 233, 1. R.S. 08: 1300. C.L. 8775. CSA: C. 45, 122. CRS 53: 35-6-6. L. 57: p. 311, 1. L. 73: R&RE, p. 462, 1. C.R.S. 1963: 35-6-6. L. 81: (1)(c) to (1)(h) amended and (1.1), (1.2), and (6) added, pp. 1439, 1440, 2, 3, effective June 4. L. 89: (6) amended, p. 1276, 3, effective April 18. L. 96: (4) amended, p. 402, 15, effective April 17. L. 2000: (6) amended, p. 157, 1, effective August 2. L. 2001: (6) amended, p. 735, 5, effective July 1. L. 2002: (6)(a)(II) amended, p. 1029, 56, effective June 1. L. 2004: (4)(c) added, p. 626, 3, effective August 4. L. 2011: (2) amended, (HB 11-1258), ch. 137, p. 477, 2, effective May 4; IP(6)(a) and (6)(a)(II) amended, (SB 11-187), ch. 285, p. 1329, 76, effective July 1. L. 2013: Entire section amended, (HB 13-1097), ch. 95, p. 304, 3, effective April 4; (1) (d) repealed, (HB 13-1154), ch. 372, p. 2192, 3, effective July 1; (6) (a) (II) amended, (HB 13-1104), ch. 77, p. 249, 7, effective August 7.
Editor's note: Amendments to this section by House Bill 13-1097, House Bill 13-1104, and House Bill 13-1154 were harmonized.
Cross references: (1) For issuance of death certificate, see 25-2-110; for postmortem examination by licensed physician, see 12-36-133.
(2) For the legislative declaration in the 2011 act amending subsection (2), see section 1 of chapter 237, Session Laws of Colorado 2011.
(3) For the legislative declaration in the 2013 act repealing subsection (1)(d), see section 1 of chapter 372, Session Laws of Colorado 2013.
Law reviews. For article, "Scientific Findings on Death and Coroner's Inquest", see 20 Rocky Mt. L. Rev. 197 (1948). For article, "Disposition of Bodily Remains: Post-Death Aspects", see 12 Colo. Law. 439 (1983).
Coroners' function is to investigate and determine whether a decedent has died from violent, unexplained causes, or under suspicious circumstances. People ex rel. Kinsey v. Sumner, 34 Colo. App. 61, 525 P.2d 512 (1974).
There is no private right of action under this section. Macurdy v. Faure, 176 P.3d 880 (Colo. App. 2007).
There is also no implied private right of action under this section. Macurdy v. Faure, 176 P.3d 880 (Colo. App. 2007).
Failure to perform the discretionary duty under subsection (2) does not give rise to a private right of action. Macurdy v. Faure, 176 P.3d 880 (Colo. App. 2007).
An implied private right of action is inconsistent with the purposes of the legislative scheme because threat of litigation may lead to conducting of autopsies that the coroner or district attorney would not otherwise deem advisable under subsection (2). Macurdy v. Faure, 176 P.3d 880 (Colo. App. 2007).
Coroner's desire to solicit private burial contract for his funeral home would have no material bearing on outcome of an investigation under this section. People ex rel. Kinsey v. Sumner, 34 Colo. App. 61, 525 P.2d 512 (1974).
The verdict of the jury at a coroner's inquest finding that the deceased committed suicide was not admissible in evidence to establish that fact as a defense to an action on a policy of insurance on the life of the deceased. Germania Life Ins. Co. v. Ross-Lewin, 24 Colo. 43, 51 P. 488, 65 Am. St. R. 215 (1897).
Subsection (6)(a)(I) grants coroners access to medical information that would otherwise be protected from disclosure under 24-72-204 (3)(a)(I), a provision of the Colorado Open Records Act. Bodelson v. City of Littleton, 36 P.3d 214 (Colo. App. 2001).