A coroner's inquest is neither a civil nor a criminal trial proceeding. It is simply an inquiry into the cause and manner of an individual's death.
An inquest is conducted by the coroner with six to eight jurors present. The inquest takes place in the Grundy County Administration Center located at 1320 Union Street, Morris, IL 60450.
The purpose of the inquest is to present pertinent information concerning the unnatural death of the victim in order for the jury to arrive at a 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 the 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 stenographer. The inquest is open to the public and may not be closed pursuant to any requests to do so. Anyone may attend proceedings.
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).
A new law went into effect regarding the Coroner's authority in conducting an inquest on a death case.
Effective January 1,2007 a Coroner may or may not hold an inquest to determine the manner of death in a suspicious or unnatural death. The Coroner now has the authority to make a decision as to whether he or she will inquest based on all of the evidence gathered on the case. The Coroner will assign a manner of death if any inquest is not conducted.
The Coroner can still choose to hold an inquest on a case at any time, or if the family of the decedent requests the Coroner to have an inquest.