San Joaquin County
District Attorney's Office

What's the difference between Coroner and Pathologist?

Typically, there are two types of reports written after a death: a coroner’s report, which determines the manner of death, and a pathology report, which determines the cause of death.

In San Joaquin County, as well as 41 other counties in California, the elected sheriff acts as the coroner, the Sheriff-Coroner. However, in some counties, like Santa Clara, there is an appointed medical examiner, separate from the sheriff, who acts as the coroner, the Medical Examiner-Coroner. Unlike the medical examiner, a coroner does not have to be a medical doctor.

The board of supervisors of a county may determine how the coroner’s office constituted (Government Code §24010). The coroner is mandated by law (Government Code §27491) to “inquire into and determine the circumstances, manner, and cause” of death.

What is a coroner’s report?

A coroner’s report, written by a deputy coroner, is typically written like a police report noting circumstances of the death. After the death is investigated and an autopsy is performed, the coroner will determine the manner of death: natural, accident, suicide, homicide, or undetermined (Government Code § 27522(d)). As a separate duty, the coroner will issue a death certificate (Government Code §27491.5).

What is a pathology report?

A pathology report is a separate report written by a forensic pathologist (a medical doctor trained in this field) upon the completion of an autopsy. The autopsy is a forensic medical examination that determines the cause of death (Government Code § 27522).

For example, a pathology report will state that the victim died from a gunshot wound. A coroner’s report will state whether that death was an accident, suicide, or a homicide.

What is the role of the District Attorney?

The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office conducts an independent review of the Coroner’s report and the pathology report as well as reports from the investigating law enforcement agency, other independent agencies such as the California Department of Justice, and under certain circumstances, our own investigative unit, to determine whether a crime was committed, what crime was committed (such as manslaughter or murder) and who committed the crime.