§ 45-16-27. When inquest to be held; special situations; coroner's fee; issuance of subpoenas; cost of copying; limited disclosure of photographs.

CODE OF GEORGIA

Title 45. PUBLIC OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES

Chapter 16. CORONERS

Article 2. DEATH INVESTIGATIONS

Current through 2019 Chapter 321

§ 45-16-27. When inquest to be held; special situations; coroner's fee; issuance of subpoenas; cost of copying; limited disclosure of photographs

(a) Coroners shall require an inquest to be conducted in their respective counties as follows:
(1) When any individual dies under any circumstances specified in paragraphs (1) through (10) of subsection (a) of Code Section 45-16-24 ; provided, however, that an inquest shall not be required to be held, although the coroner shall be authorized to hold an inquest, under the following circumstances:
(A) When upon the completion of the medical examiner's inquiry the peace officer in charge and the medical examiner are satisfied that, even though death resulted from violence, no foul play was involved. In this event, the peace officer in charge and the medical examiner shall make a written report of their investigation and findings to the division as set forth in Code Section 45-16-32, and upon their recommendation, the coroner shall make and file a proper death certificate;
(B) When there is sufficient evidence to establish the cause and manner of death, even though the medical examiner's inquiry revealed that death resulted from foul play;
(C) When no demand for an inquest is made within 30 days after the filing of the death certificate. However, if such demand is made by the party or parties affected by the death, the coroner shall be authorized to hold the inquest;
(D) When upon the completion of the medical examiner's inquiry the medical examiner and peace officer in charge are sufficiently satisfied that death resulted from natural causes, and that medical examiner or coroner is willing to and does sign and file a proper death certificate, and no demand for an inquest is made within 30 days thereafter;
(D.1) In cases of deaths resulting from an accident involving any civil aircraft, it shall be the responsibility of the peace officer in charge to notify the National Transportation Safety Board or the Federal Aviation Administration of such accident, to proceed to the scene and guard the area in such manner that no bodies, wreckage, cargo, or mail shall be moved or disturbed until authorized by a representative of the National Transportation Safety Board or the Federal Aviation Administration except to the extent necessary to remove individuals injured or trapped, to protect the wreckage from further damage, or to protect the public from injury. When it is necessary to move aircraft wreckage, mail, or cargo, sketches, descriptive notes, and photographs shall be made, if possible, of the original positions and condition of the wreckage and any significant impact marks. The coroner or medical examiner shall assist investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board or the Federal Aviation Administration as authorized by federal law;
(E) When after full and complete investigation no evidence of foul play is found in cases of hidden cause of death which fall under the jurisdiction of the coroner. The coroner shall be authorized to sign the death certificate on the basis of the information given to him or her in the reports of the peace officer in charge and the medical examiner, provided that, in such hidden causes of death, after a complete investigation, if sufficient medical history is obtained by the coroner, the peace officer in charge, or the medical examiner to disclose the cause of death and if the attending physician will sign the death certificate, such cases shall not come under the jurisdiction of the coroner; provided, further, that, if there are sufficient competent eyewitnesses to an act in the opinion of the peace officer in charge, such cases shall not come under the jurisdiction of the coroner; or
(F) In cases of deaths of personnel in the armed forces of the United States government resulting from airplane disasters involving airplanes of the armed forces, including crashes or explosions, which deaths shall not come under the jurisdiction of the coroner. It shall be the responsibility of the peace officer in charge to notify the proper armed forces of the United States government immediately of such airplane crashes or explosions in order that they may send their trained forces to the scene for investigation. It shall be the duty of the peace officer in charge, when notified of such crashes or explosions, to proceed to the scene and guard the area in such manner that no bodies or parts of said airplanes shall be moved or disturbed until the arrival of proper investigating officers from the armed forces of the United States government;
(2) When an inmate of a state hospital or a state, county, or city penal institution dies unexpectedly without an attending physician or as a result of violence. The chief medical examiner or his or her designee, regional medical examiner, or local medical examiner shall perform all medical examiners' inquiries. The coroner, in those counties in which such office has not been replaced by a local medical examiner, shall hold an inquest after receiving the written reports as set forth in Code Section 45-16-32 ;
(3) When ordered by a court in connection with a medical examiner's inquiry ordered by that court pursuant to subsection (c) of Code Section 45-16-24 ; or
(4) Notwithstanding any other provisions of this subsection, no individual shall be deemed to have died unattended by a physician when the death occurred while he or she was a patient of a hospice licensed under Article 9 of Chapter 7 of Title 31.
(b) On and after January 1, 2007, coroners shall be entitled to an investigation fee of $175.00 where no jury is impaneled or a fee of $250.00 where a jury is impaneled and shall be paid upon receipt of a monthly statement to the county treasury. A deputy coroner shall receive the same fee as the coroner for the performance of services in place of the coroner and shall be paid upon receipt of a monthly statement to the county treasury. Such fee shall be paid within ten days after receipt of the coroner's monthly statement by the county where the investigation or inquest is held except in counties where the coroner receives an annual salary established through local legislation, in which case no fee shall be imposed upon the county by such salaried coroner or deputy coroner.
(b.1) A local Act providing for the compensation of a coroner shall remain in full force and effect, except as otherwise provided in this subsection. In those instances where such local Act provides for a salary in an amount less than the amount of compensation such coroner would be entitled to pursuant to subsection (b) of this Code section, the coroner may elect to be compensated pursuant to subsection (b) of this Code section in lieu of the compensation provided for by local Act. The coroner shall provide written notice to the county governing authority of such election no later than October 1 of any year to be effective January 1 of the next calendar year.
(c) When a coroner or a medical examiner or a medical examiner from the office of chief medical examiner, as established in Code Section 35-3-153, conducts an investigation into the death of an individual, the coroner, medical examiner, or medical examiner from the office of chief medical examiner shall be authorized to issue subpoenas to compel the production of any books, records, including but not limited to medical records from hospitals, medical clinics, psychiatric hospitals, physicians' offices, chiropractors' offices, and any other health care delivery facility, or papers relevant to the cause of death including without limitation AIDS confidential information as defined by Code Section 31-22-9.1. Any books, records, or papers received by the coroner, medical examiner, or medical examiner from the office of chief medical examiner pursuant to the subpoena must be regarded as confidential information and privileged and not subject to disclosure under Article 4 of Chapter 18 of Title 50. The actual costs of copying any books, records, or papers for the purposes of responding to a subpoena under this subsection shall be paid out of county funds to the person or entity required to respond to that subpoena, and the governing authority of the county of which that coroner or county medical examiner is a public officer shall pay those costs within 30 days after a bill therefor is submitted to the county. A medical examiner from the office of chief medical examiner shall pay the costs of copying from state funds within 30 days after a bill therefor is submitted to the state.
(d) Autopsy photographs shall not be subject to disclosure pursuant to Article 4 of Chapter 18 of Title 50; provided, however, that this subsection shall have no application to the disclosure of such photographs to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors for law enforcement purposes or, in closed criminal investigations, to medical schools, medical facilities, and physicians for medical purposes; to individuals who have secured a written release from the deceased's next of kin; or to the next of kin. It shall be the responsibility of the next of kin to show proof of the familial relationship. For purposes of securing a written release or when access to the photographs is requested by the next of kin, the deceased's next of kin shall be:
(1) The spouse of the deceased if living;
(2) If there is no living spouse of the deceased, an adult child of the deceased;
(3) If there is no living spouse or adult child, a parent of the deceased;
(4) If there is no living spouse, adult child, or parent, a sibling of the deceased;
(5) If there is no living spouse, adult child, parent, or sibling of the deceased, a grandparent of the deceased;
(6) If none of the above are living, an uncle of the deceased;
(7) If none of the above are living, an aunt of the deceased; or
(8) If none of the above are living, a first cousin of the deceased.

A superior court may, in closed criminal investigations, order the disclosure of such photographs upon findings in writing that disclosure is in the public interest and that it outweighs any privacy interest that may be asserted by the deceased's next of kin. In any such action, the court shall review the photographs in question in camera and may condition any disclosure on such measurers as the court may deem necessary to accommodate the interests of the parties before it.

(e)
(1) Crime scene photographs and video recordings, including photographs and video recordings created or produced by a state or local agency or by a perpetrator or suspect at a crime scene, which depict or describe a deceased person in a state of dismemberment, decapitation, or similar mutilation including, without limitation, where the deceased person's genitalia are exposed, shall not be subject to disclosure pursuant to Article 4 of Chapter 18 of Title 50; provided, however, that this subsection shall not prohibit disclosure of such material to the deceased's next of kin or to an individual who has secured a written release from the next of kin. It shall be the responsibility of the next of kin to show proof of the familial relationship. For purposes of such access, the deceased's next of kin shall be:
(A) The spouse of the deceased if living;
(B) If there is no living spouse of the deceased, an adult child of the deceased; or
(C) If there is no living spouse or adult child, a parent of the deceased.
(2) Subject to the provisions of paragraph (3) of this subsection, in the case of closed criminal investigations a superior court may order the disclosure of such photographs or video recordings upon findings in writing that disclosure is in the public interest and outweighs any privacy interest that may be asserted by the deceased person's next of kin. In making such determination, the court shall consider whether such disclosure is necessary for public evaluation of governmental performance, the seriousness of the intrusion into the family's right to privacy, and whether such disclosure is the least intrusive means available considering the availability of similar information in other public records. In any such action, the court shall review the photographs in question in camera with the custodian of crime scene materials present and may condition any disclosure on such condition as the court may deem necessary to accommodate the interests of the parties.
(3) Prior to releasing any crime scene material described in paragraph (1) of this subsection, the custodian of such material shall give the deceased person's next of kin at least two weeks' notice. No court shall order a disclosure pursuant to paragraph (2) of this subsection which would disregard or shorten the duration of such notice requirement.
(4) The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all undisclosed material which is in the custody of a state or local agency on May 20, 2010, and to any such material which comes into the custody of a state or local agency after such date.
(5) This subsection shall not apply to disclosure of crime scene material to counsel representing a convicted defendant in a habeas corpus action pursuant to Chapter 14 of Title 9, on an extraordinary motion for new trial under Code Section 5-5-40 or 5-5-41, or in a federal habeas corpus action under Section 2254 or 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code for the purpose of preparing to file or litigating such proceedings. Counsel may disclose such materials to his or her client and any expert or investigator assisting counsel but shall not otherwise disseminate such materials, except to the extent they may be necessary exhibits in court proceedings. A request pursuant to this paragraph shall clearly state that such request is being made for the purpose of preparing to file and litigate proceedings enumerated in this paragraph.
(6) The director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Board of Public Safety shall promulgate rules and regulations governing the viewing of materials described in paragraph (1) of this subsection by bona fide credentialed members of the press.

Cite as OCGA § 45-16-27

History. Amended by 2017 Ga. Laws 141, §6-2, eff. 7/1/2017.

Amended by 2014 Ga. Laws 669, §45, eff. 4/29/2014.

Amended by 2013 Ga. Laws 228, §2, eff. 7/1/2013.

Amended by 2010 Ga. Laws 414, §3, eff. 5/20/2010.

Amended by 2006 Ga. Laws 649, §12, eff. 7/1/2006.

Amended by 2002 Ga. Laws 789, §1, eff. 5/13/2002.