All 58 counties in California have a sheriff’s department but not all have a separate coroner or medical examiner’s office. The duties of the coroner are currently combined with the sheriff’s department in 48 counties.
Making the coroner independent from the sheriff is important because it increases transparency, removes potential conflicts of interest, and increases objectivity in the process of determining the cause of death of an individual, including in-custody deaths. It reduces the perception that the process is unduly influenced by law enforcement, and removes conflicts of interest present when there is an officer-involved death which disproportionately impacts communities of color. It makes it clear that the investigative process is seeking the truth through a fair, unbiased, transparent, and impartial office.
An independent coroner’s office helps to ensure medical examinations and investigations of sudden, violent, or unexplained/suspicious deaths are conducted objectively and reduces the likelihood that the investigative process could be influenced by other segments of the criminal legal system.
AB 1608, by Assemblymembers Gipson and Weber, would delete the authority to combine the duties of the sheriff with the duties of the coroner, mitigating the broad powers of the sheriff and increasing accountability and transparency in the medical examination process when determining the cause of death.
AB 1608 would provide a clear delineation between the sheriff and the coroner to ensure that an independent coroner is making determinations regarding both the type of and manner of death. It’s a critical step in ensuring both medical and civil integrity in our criminal legal system.
AB 1608 also has larger implications towards the criminal legal system by ensuring that all deaths are investigated equally and medical determinations cannot be influenced by laypersons. Today, 10 counties in California have made the coroner independent from the sheriff. Californians in every county deserve access to a fair, unbiased and transparent process.
Bill Authors: Assemblymember Gipson, Assemblymember Weber
ACLU California Action
California Medical Association
California Faculty Association
California Families United For4 Justice
Justice for Angelo Quinto
The Miles Hall Foundation
Union of American Physicians and Dentists AFSCME Local 206