Coroner, an officer so called from coronator, because originally his functions were for the most part those of a conservator of the peace, and in other respects of a ministerial deputy of the crown. The office is of very great antiquity in England, and at an early period was held by men of high dignity. The chief justice of the king's bench was called by Coke the chief coroner of the kingdom, and as such he could perform the duties of the office if he chose in any part of the realm. It was the custom from a remote period to elect several coroners in every county, which was done by the freeholders at the county court. By a statute in the reign of Edward I. it was enacted that none but lawful and discreet knights should be chosen; but, according to Blackstone, "through the culpable neglect of gentlemen of property the office had fallen into disrepute, and got into low and indigent hands." More recently, however, the office has been generally held by men of respectability. The duties of coroner are ministerial and judicial. In his ministerial capacity he may serve writs when the sheriff is incompetent to act, or when the process is against the sheriff himself; he may also by virtue of his office apprehend a felon within his county without warrant.
His chief judicial function is to inquire, when any person is slain or dies suddenly or in prison, concerning the manner of his death. This must be super visum corporis (within sight of the body), and by a jury summoned for that purpose over whom the coroner presides. If upon the inquest any one is found guilty of homicide, he is to be committed to prison by the coroner, and the inquisition with the evidence is to be returned to the king's bench. Another part of his duties is to inquire concerning shipwrecks, and who is in possession of any of the property which may have been saved. In this country the office exists in all or most of the states, and the duties are generally the same as in England. There is no similar office under the federal government.