Office of the County Coroner
Coroners originated in England during the twelfth century—initially being called “crowners” due to their service to the king. As the English set their sights on the land that is now the United States, the office of the coroner was one of the ideas that set sail with them. With his appointment on January 29, 1637, Thomas Baldridge of Maryland became the inaugural coroner of England’s venture into the continent. Since Baldridge’s service, the office of the coroner has evolved, yet it has maintained an important place as a medicolegal facet in death investigation in the modern United States. By 2018, twenty-seven states operated under some sort of county coroner system, while seven states were operating under a county medical examiner system and sixteen states were using a centralized/statewide medical examiner system. The differences and advantages between either a coroner system or a medical examiner system are hotly contested. While Arkansas operates under a county coroner arrangement, it also has a central, statewide medical examiner that takes referrals from each county.
In Arkansas, there are seventy-five coroners—one for each county. Seventy-three are elected officials, with two being appointed. The role of coroner is full time and requires, according to the Arkansas Coroner’s Association, “the investigation of deaths occurring within the county 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days per year.” This investigation requires that, “when[ever] a death is reported to the coroner,” coroners open an inquiry into “the circumstances surrounding the death of an individual and gather and review background information, including but not limited to, medical information and any other information which may be helpful in determining the cause and manner of death.” However, this investigation is not done into all deaths that occur within the county; rather, it is only for deaths that require an inquiry per Arkansas law. Those types of deaths include those that involve some appearance of violence, drugs, abuse, or unexplained phenomena. The county coroner is additionally and uniquely tasked with arresting the county sheriff if the need should arise. This task was exercised with the 2016 arrest of former Benton County sheriff Kelley Cradduck by Benton County coroner Daniel Oxford.
In Arkansas, the requirements for election to the office of coroner include that the potential electee must “possess the qualifications of an elector,” “be a U.S. citizen,” “be an Arkansas resident,” “reside within their respective township, justice of the peace district, or county to be represented,” “be a minimum of eighteen (18) years of age,” “be lawfully registered to vote,” “never have been convicted of embezzlement of public money, bribery, forgery, or other infamous crime,” and “not be appointed or elected to any other civil office.”
Arkansas requires its coroners to have no formal educational background in any field prior to being elected. Rather, there is a training course (lasting a minimum of sixteen hours to a maximum of forty hours) that encapsulates the whole of training that is required for Arkansas’s coroners and deputy coroners at the state level. This nominal training requirement has been the subject of fierce controversy, as some question whether the preparation is adequate for such an important position.
For additional information:
Arkansas Coroner’s Association. https://www.arcoroner.org/ (accessed May 4, 2023).
Moore, McKenna. “Dead Men Tell No Tales: Arkansas’s Grave Failure to Honor Its Constituents’ Postmortem Quasi-Property Right.” Arkansas Law Review 74, no. 3 (2021): 577–605. Online at https://scholarworks.uark.edu/alr/vol74/iss3/7/ (accessed May 4, 2023).
McKenna K. Moore
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