Document Type



This Article explores the lack of regulation of coroners, concerns within the forensic science community on the reliability of coroner determinations, and ultimately, how elected laypeople serving as coroners may influence the rise in drug-induced homicide prosecutions in the midst of the opioid epidemic.

This Article proposes that the manner of death determination contributes to overdoses being differently prosecuted; that coroners in rural counties are more likely to determine the manner of death for an illicit substance overdose is homicide; and that coroners are provided with insufficient training on interacting with the criminal justice system, particularly on overdose deaths. Death investigations as a whole are not the impartial, scientific endeavors they are portrayed to be; instead, they can be deeply influenced by law enforcement and prosecutors, with medical examiners and coroners serving as part of the “investigative team.”

Just as research has demonstrated that forensic analysts working in police-controlled crime labs can be influenced by a team mentality to find evidence supporting a prosecution, such a mentality can likewise be found in death investigations. The lack of impartiality leading to a death certificate or autopsy determination is, however, rarely exposed. In drug induced homicides, a confluence of a robust system of mass incarceration, political motives, and a wide-sweeping public health crisis lead to incarceration for drug abuse whether or not it is legally supported.