Coroner's Inquest in Henry County
The following information has been compiled for the purpose of acquainting individuals and organizations with inquest procedures.
Understanding these procedures will prevent unnecessary delay and inconvenience to the family, friends, and those persons having any questions regarding an inquest.
A Coroner's Inquest is neither a civil nor a criminal trial proceeding. It is simply an inquiry into the manner and cause of an individual's death.
An inquest is conducted by the Coroner or Deputy Coroner with a secretary and six jurors present. The jurors are citizens of Henry County, the county in which the death took place.
The purpose of the inquest is to present pertinent information concerning the victim's death in order for the jury to arrive at a cause and manner of death. The cause of death is often readily apparent and obvious, based on the facts, circumstances, medical evidence and in some cases toxicology and autopsy results. The real essence of the jurors' responsibility is to establish the manner of death (suicide, homicide, accident, natural or undetermined).
The Coroner will summon to the inquest these individuals who have pertinent information concerning the incident. This often includes, but is not limited to the person who found the deceased, witnesses to the incident, those involved, police officers and investigators, and in some instances a direct relative. All individuals summoned will present testimony (answer questions) to the jury. Any professional reports (autopsy, toxicology, x-ray and laboratory reports) will be presented at that time. These reports are not released to the public until the inquest procedures are concluded.
All information and testimony at the inquest is recorded and/or transcribed by a coroner's secretary. All such information will be documented verbatim in an inquest transcript available approximately three weeks after the inquest. This transcript may be reviewed in the Coroner's office at no charge. A copy of the transcript may be purchased at $5.00 per page pursuant to the Illinois State law (Illinois Revised Statutes, Chapter 34, Division 4-7, Coroner's Fees, 4-7001).
The inquest is open to the public and may not be closed pursuant to any requests to do so. Anyone may attend. We do not publish inquest dates and times, but if someone would request a notification, they are so notified by telephone at least seven days preceding the inquest.
Attorneys are welcome to attend. The need for an attorney is purely an individual decision. This office neither recommends nor advises attorney attendance, the exception being the Henry County State's Attorney, who is notified of all inquests in Henry County. Attorneys are allowed to ask questions of witnesses as a courtesy only, and such questions are directed to be a maximum of two or three of each witness. Questioning is a courtesy which may be revoked at any time. The family or anyone else will not be permitted to question the witnesses nor supply their own witnesses, however the family may testify if they wish, again the exception being the Henry County State's Attorney who can question the witness any any time.
Upon completion of the testimony the Coroner's jury will deliberate in private. They may request additional testimony, evidence, or conference as they deem necessary. When the jury has concluded their deliberations, they will issue a verdict through the foreman as to the cause and manner of death (accident, homicide, natural, suicide or undetermined).
The Coroner's verdict has no civil or criminal trial significance. The verdict and inquest proceedings are merely fact finding in nature and statistical in purpose. However, if a person is implicated as the unlawful slayer of the deceased or accessory thereto an arrest may be effected. This is extremely rare. This function is performed by the State's Attorney through grand jury proceedings.
This testimony presented at the inquest is sworn and under oath and properly documented and/or recorded. Because of this, testimony may subsequently be used in perjury proceedings if such testimony should change in future civil or criminal trial proceedings.
IN SUMMARY THE INQUEST IS:
an informal inquiry or proceeding;
conducted by the Coroner or his deputy;
consists of a jury of six people, whose purpose is to determine the cause and manner of death;
where testimony and evidence are presented;
recorded verbatim by a court reporter or coroner's secretary in a transcript;
questioning by attorneys is a courtesy which is revocable;
verdict holds little significance other than fact finding and statistical, with exceptions;
testimony cannot be changed at a later date;
open to the public;
verdict or inquest cannot later be changed or the inquest reopened for any purpose (pursuant to opinions of the Illinois Attorney General);
cause and manner of death once established will appear at the conclusion of the inquest on the permanent death certificate;
after the conclusion of the inquest a copy of the certified death certificate may be obtained at the Henry County Health Department, 4424 U.S. Highway 34, Kewanee, Illinois 61443,(309) 852-0197;
- all coroner's records are public and accessible after the inquest unless so restricted by the State's Attorney or the court.
All such provisions and explanations presented herein are subject to revision at any time.