There are two systems of death investigation in the United States, the Coroner and Medical Examiner systems. The State of Washington has a combination of the two systems. They are virtually identical in their duties and responsibilities and differ mainly in their administration.
The Coroner’s Office is administered by an elected official. Depending on who is elected, this person may be a medical professional. The death investigations are performed in the same manner as in the Medical Examiner system, but the administrator is elected.
The Medical Examiner system is administered by an appointed medical doctor. The death investigations are performed in the same manner as in the Coroner system, but the administrator is an appointed medical doctor.
The State of Washington has a mixed system of death investigation. In counties with populations under 40,000 the elected Prosecutor handles death investigations as a Prosecutor-Coroner county. In counties with populations between 40,000 and 250,000 there is an independent Coroner’s office headed by an elected Coroner. In counties with populations over 250,000 there is an appointed Medical Examiner.
In Washington there are currently 6 Medical Examiner counties, 18 Coroner counties and 15 Prosecutor-Coroner counties. Island County has been a Coroner county since 1982.