Adjudicating Death: Professionals or Politicians?

14 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2017 Last revised: 22 Aug 2017

See all articles by Stephen J. Choi

Stephen J. Choi

New York University School of Law

G. Mitu Gulati

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: June 26, 2017


Variation exists in how death examinations take place in the United States. In some counties and states decisions about autopsies and the issuance of death certificates are made by a local coroner who often needs nothing more than a high school diploma to run for election to the job of coroner. In other counties and states, an appointed medical professional performs the death examination. We provide preliminary tests of the difference in performance between death examination offices run by appointed medical professionals compared with elected coroners. We find that death examiner offices in elected coroner states are less likely to be accredited by the major national organizations and correlate with greater amounts of autopsy related litigation. We also find some evidence that the historical shift from elected coroners to appointed medical professionals was more likely in states with less of a preference for direct democracy as proxied by the system of state supreme court judge selection.

Keywords: coroners; medical examiners; judicial quality; elections

JEL Classification: H70, K40

Suggested Citation

Choi, Stephen J. and Gulati, Gaurang Mitu, Adjudicating Death: Professionals or Politicians? (June 26, 2017). NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 17-21, Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2017-48, Available at SSRN: or

Stephen J. Choi (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

Gaurang Mitu Gulati

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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