Friday, April 8, 2011

M.E. or Coroner - Is there a Difference?

This week’s Forensic Friday post was inspired by a new television show.  Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you haven’t, but I’m not going to name it.  All I’m going to say is they didn’t have their facts right, and as writers, we know the importance of that.

In this show, they had the Medical Examiner accompany the detectives to question potential suspects.  Does that happen in the real world?  The answer is no.  If they did, why would we need detectives?  But the M.E. does assist criminal investigations in other ways.

Most of the time, the terms M.E. (Medical Examiner) and Coroner are used interchangeably, but are they the same?  The basic answer is yes.  And depending on jurisdication, you can have either or.  If you are setting your novel in a real town, check out your facts to make sure you make mention of the right profession.

The basic difference is a Coroner never used to need any medical training.  They could be a sheriff, newspaper publisher, neighborhood cafe owner, or local funeral direction.  But over the past several decades, many jurisdictions do require them to be a licensed physician.  To become a Medical Examiner, a lot more education is required.

What kind of education is required for an M.E.?
In order to qualify for this position, you need a bachelor’s degree in science, followed by a doctor of medicine, which is a combined 8 years of schooling.  On top of that, eventually you are required to obtain a certification in pathology which lasts another 3-5 years.

Basic Duties of Both a M.E. and Coroner
- They determine time and cause of death using information obtained from external and internal autopsies (see post “Conducting an Autopsy.”), medical records and circumstantial evidence.  
- Supervision of evidence collection from the body
- Identification of unknown corpses and skeletal remains
- Determination of any contributory factors in the death
- Certification of the death certificate
- Presentation of expert testimony in court
- Oversight of the crime lab (in some areas)
- Examination of injuries to the living and determination of their cause and timing
- They often testify in court, as expert witnesses, about the cause of death and provide the court with other relevant forensic information. 
- They do speak with witnesses, family members of the deceased, and police to shed light on the cause of death.
- They take a systematic approach as a doctor would with a patient who is complaining of health concerns.
- They often work with a forensic investigator, who is the person at the crime scene who deals with the body.  (Sidenote:  “The forensic investigator is usually the person who makes the first examination of the body and takes its temperature, which is needed to estimate the time of death. The investigator also directs the taking of photographs of the body and the removal of trace or insect evidence from it. Then the forensic investigator wraps and transports the body to the ME's office. Throughout, the body is in the custody of the medical examiner, while the crime scene is under the control of the police. The forensic investigator provides a useful interface between the two entities.”- http://www.enotes.com/forensic-science/medical-examiner)

Salary of a M.E.
The medical examiner pay depends on a wide range of conditions such as the state and city of service, additional educational certifications, category of employer, expertise and experience, and similar aspects.

1-4 yrs of work experience may get an annual salary package ranging from $31,000 to $44,000.

5-9 yrs of work experience income potential also grows from approx. $32,000 to $48,000.

10-19  yrs of work experience can demand a per annum pay anywhere between $35,000 to $54,000.

20yrs + can earn anything near to a whopping $200,000.

Some examples:
New York offers per annum pay of $50,000 to $110,000.
Texas, the salary range falls anywhere between $44,000 to $74,000.
California, the remuneration can be between $51,000 to $70,000.

Salary of a Coroner
$40,000 to $60,000 which increases with experience.
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Sources