Only when a coroner has no reason to believe that a death was caused by circumstances under s. 979.01 [now s. 979.04] other than sudden infant death syndrome does a written objection under s. 979.125 [now s. 979.03] bar an autopsy under s. 979.121 [now s. 979.02]. 68 Atty. Gen. 55.
Inquests: when called. 979.04(1)
If the district attorney has notice of the death of any person and there is reason to believe from the circumstances surrounding the death that felony murder, first-degree or 2nd-degree intentional homicide, first-degree or 2nd-degree reckless homicide, homicide by negligent handling of dangerous weapon, explosives or fire, homicide by negligent operation of vehicle, homicide resulting from negligent control of a vicious animal or homicide by intoxicated user of a vehicle or firearm may have been committed, or that death may have been due to suicide or unexplained or suspicious circumstances, the district attorney may order that an inquest be conducted for the purpose of inquiring how the person died. The district attorney shall appear in any such inquest representing the state in presenting all evidence which may be relevant or material to the inquiry of the inquest. The inquest may be held in any county in this state in which venue would lie for the trial of any offense charged as the result of or involving the death. An inquest may only be ordered by the district attorney under this subsection or by the circuit judge under sub. (2)
If the coroner or medical examiner has knowledge of the death of any person in the manner described under sub. (1)
, he or she shall immediately notify the district attorney. The notification shall include information concerning the circumstances surrounding the death. The coroner or medical examiner may request the district attorney to order an inquest under sub. (1)
. If the district attorney refuses to order the inquest, a coroner or medical examiner may petition the circuit court to order an inquest. The court may issue the order if it finds that the district attorney has abused his or her discretion in not ordering an inquest.
Subsequent to receipt of notice of the death, the district attorney may request the coroner or medical examiner to conduct a preliminary investigation and report back to the district attorney. The district attorney may determine the scope of the preliminary investigation. This subsection does not limit or prevent any other investigation into the death by any law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the investigation.
Inquests: procedure. 979.05(1)
An inquest shall be conducted by a circuit judge or a circuit court commissioner.
The inquest shall be conducted before a jury unless the district attorney, coroner, or medical examiner requests that the inquest be conducted before the judge or circuit court commissioner only. If the inquest is to be conducted before a jury, a sufficient number of names of prospective jurors shall be selected from the prospective juror list for the county in which the inquest is to be held by the clerk of circuit court in the manner provided in s. 756.06
. The judge or circuit court commissioner conducting the inquest shall summon the prospective jurors to appear before the judge or circuit court commissioner at the time fixed in the summons. The summons may be served by mail, or by personal service if the judge, circuit court commissioner, or district attorney determines personal service to be appropriate. The summons shall be in the form used to summon petit jurors in the circuit courts of the county. Any person who fails to appear when summoned as an inquest juror is subject to a forfeiture of not more than $40. The inquest jury shall consist of 6 jurors. If 6 jurors do not remain from the number originally summoned after establishment of qualifications, the judge or circuit court commissioner conducting the inquest may require the clerk of the circuit court to select sufficient additional jurors' names. Those persons shall be summoned forthwith by the sheriff of the county.
The judge or circuit court commissioner shall examine on oath or affirmation each person who is called as a juror to discover whether the juror is related by blood, marriage or adoption to the decedent, any member of the decedent's family, the district attorney, any other attorney appearing in the case or any members of the office of the district attorney or of the office of any other attorney appearing in the case, has expressed or formed any opinion regarding the matters being inquired into in the inquest or is aware of or has any bias or prejudice concerning the matters being inquired into in the inquest. If any prospective juror is found to be not indifferent or is found to have formed an opinion which cannot be laid aside, that juror shall be excused. The judge or circuit commissioner may select one or more alternate jurors if the inquest is likely to be protracted. This subsection does not limit the right of the district attorney to supplement the judge's or circuit commissioner's examination of any prospective jurors as to qualifications.
When 6 jurors have been selected, the judge or circuit court commissioner shall administer to them an oath or affirmation which shall be substantially in the following form:
You do solemnly swear (affirm) that you will diligently inquire and determine on behalf of this state when, and in what manner and by what means, the person known as .... .... who is now dead came to his or her death and that you will return a true verdict thereon according to your knowledge, according to the evidence presented and according to the instructions given to you by the .... (judge) (circuit court commissioner).
Prior to the submission of evidence to the jury, the judge or circuit court commissioner may instruct the jury on its duties and on the substantive law regarding the issues which may be inquired into before the jury. The district attorney may, at any time during the course of the inquest, make statements to the jury relating to procedural or evidentiary matters he or she and the judge or circuit court commissioner deem appropriate. Section 972.12
applies to the conduct of the inquest jury.
The judge or circuit court commissioner conducting the inquest may order that proceedings be secret if the district attorney so requests or concurs.
Inquest jurors shall receive the same compensation as jurors under s. 756.25
History: 1983 a. 279
; Sup. Ct. Order No. 96-08
, 207 Wis. 2d xv (1997); 1999 a. 162
; 2001 a. 61
Inquests: witnesses. 979.06(1)
The judge or circuit court commissioner may issue subpoenas for witnesses at the request of the coroner or medical examiner and shall issue subpoenas for witnesses requested by the district attorney. Subpoenas are returnable at the time and place stated therein. Persons who are served with a subpoena may be compelled to attend proceedings in the manner provided in s. 885.12
The judge or circuit court commissioner conducting the inquest and the district attorney may require by subpoena the attendance of one or more expert witnesses, including physicians, surgeons and pathologists, for the purposes of conducting an examination of the body and all relevant and material scientific and medical tests connected with the examination and testifying as to the results of the examination and tests. The expert witnesses so subpoenaed shall receive reasonable fees determined by the district attorney and the judge or circuit court commissioner conducting the inquest.
Any witness examined at an inquest may have counsel present during the examination of that witness. The counsel may not examine or cross-examine his or her client, cross-examine or call other witnesses or argue before the judge or circuit court commissioner holding the inquest.
The judge or circuit court commissioner shall administer an oath or affirmation to each witness which shall be substantially in the following form:
You do solemnly swear (affirm) that the evidence and testimony you give to this inquest concerning the death of the person known as .... .... shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The judge or circuit court commissioner conducting the inquest shall cause the testimony given by all witnesses to be reduced to writing or recorded and may employ stenographers to take and transcribe all of the testimony. The stenographer shall receive reimbursement at a reasonable rate for each appearance and transcription at rates in accordance with the customary charges in the area for similar services.
Inquest witnesses shall receive the same compensation as witnesses in circuit court under s. 814.67
History: 1983 a. 279
; 2001 a. 61
Incriminating testimony compelled; immunity. 979.07(1)(a)(a)
If a person refuses to testify or to produce books, papers or documents when required to do so before an inquest for the reason that the testimony or evidence required of the person may tend to incriminate him or her or subject him or her to a forfeiture or penalty, the person may be compelled to testify or produce the evidence by order of the circuit court of the county in which the inquest is convened on motion of the district attorney. A person who testifies or produces evidence in obedience to the command of the court in that case is not subject to any forfeiture or penalty for or on account of testifying or producing evidence, except the person is subject to prosecution and punishment for perjury or false swearing committed in so testifying.
If a witness appearing before an inquest fails or refuses without just cause to comply with an order of the court under this section to give testimony in response to a question or with respect to any matter, the court, upon the failure or refusal or when the failure or refusal is duly brought to its attention, may punish the witness for contempt under ch. 785
History: 1983 a. 279
; 1989 a. 122
Inquests: instructions, burden of proof and verdict. 979.08(1)(1)
When the evidence is concluded and the testimony closed, the judge or circuit court commissioner shall instruct the jury on its duties and on the substantive law regarding the issues inquired into before the jury. The district attorney shall prepare a written set of appropriate requested instructions and shall submit them to the judge or circuit court commissioner who, together with the district attorney, shall compile the final set of instructions which shall be given. The instructions shall include those criminal offenses for which the judge or circuit court commissioner believes a reasonable jury might return a verdict based upon a finding of probable cause.
The jury's verdict shall be based upon a finding of probable cause and shall be unanimous.
The jury shall retire to consider its verdict after hearing all of the testimony and evidence, making all necessary inquiries and having been instructed in the law. The judge or circuit court commissioner shall provide the jury with one complete set of written instructions providing the substantive law to be applied to the issues to be decided. The verdict shall be in a form which permits the following findings:
Whether the deceased came to his or her death by criminal means and, if so, the specific crimes committed and the name of the person or persons, if known, having committed the crimes.
Whether the deceased came to his or her death by natural causes, accident, suicide or an act privileged by law.
The jury shall render its verdict in writing, signed by all of its members. The verdict shall set forth its findings from the evidence produced according to the instructions.
The verdict delivered by the inquest jury is advisory and does not preclude or require the issuance of any criminal charges by the district attorney.
Any verdict so rendered, after being validated and signed by the judge or circuit court commissioner, together with the record of the inquest, shall be delivered to the district attorney for consideration. After considering the verdict and record, the district attorney may deliver the entire inquest record or any part thereof to the coroner or medical examiner for safekeeping.
The record of a secret inquest proceeding shall not be open for inspection unless so ordered by the judge or circuit court commissioner conducting the inquest upon petition by the district attorney.
History: 1983 a. 279
; 2001 a. 61
Burial of body.
If any judge or circuit court commissioner conducts an inquest as to the death of a stranger or of a person whose identity is unknown or whose body is unclaimed or if the district attorney determines that no inquest into the death of such a person is necessary and the circuit judge has not ordered an inquest under s. 979.04 (2)
, the coroner or medical examiner shall cause the body to be decently buried or cremated and shall certify to all the charges incurred in taking any inquest by him or her and to the expenses of burial or cremation of the dead body. The charges and expenses shall be audited by the county board of the proper county and paid out of the county treasury.
History: 1983 a. 279
; Stats. 1983 s. 979.09; 2001 a. 61
No person may cremate the corpse of a deceased person within 48 hours after the death, or the discovery of the death, of the deceased person unless the death was caused by a contagious or infectious disease. No person may cremate a corpse unless the person has received a cremation permit from:
The coroner or medical examiner in the county where the death occurred if the death occurred in this state;
The coroner or medical examiner in the county where the event which caused the death occurred if the death occurred in this state and if the death is the subject of an investigation under s. 979.01
The coroner or medical examiner of the county where the corpse is to be cremated if the death occurred outside this state. A cremation permit issued under this subdivision may not be used in any county except the county in which the cremation permit is issued.
A coroner or medical examiner shall include in any cremation permit issued under par. (a)
a statement that he or she has viewed the corpse which is the subject of the permit and made personal inquiry into the cause and manner of death under sub. (2)
and is of the opinion that no further examination or judicial inquiry is necessary.
If a corpse is to be cremated, the coroner or medical examiner shall make a careful personal inquiry into the cause and manner of death, and conduct an autopsy or order the conducting of an autopsy, if in his or her or the district attorney's opinion it is necessary to determine the cause and manner of death. If the coroner or medical examiner determines that no further examination or judicial inquiry is necessary he or she shall certify that fact. Upon written request by the district attorney the coroner or medical examiner shall obtain the concurrence of the district attorney before issuing the certification. If the coroner or medical examiner determines that further examination or judicial inquiry is necessary, he or she shall notify the district attorney under s. 979.04 (2)
The coroner shall receive a fee of $25, to be paid out of the county treasury, for each corpse viewed or inquiry made under sub. (2)
, unless an annual salary has been established by the county board under s. 979.11
Whoever accepts, receives, or takes any corpse of a deceased person with intent to destroy the corpse by means of cremation, or who cremates or aids and assists in the cremation of any corpse of a deceased person without having presented the permit specified in sub. (1)
shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than 9 months or both.
See also s. DHS 135.06
, Wis. adm. code.
Chapters 69 and 157 are not alternatives to the requirement in this section that anyone cremating a corpse first obtain a cremation permit from the coroner. University medical schools or anyone else qualified to receive a corpse can receive a corpse for research without first obtaining a permit. This section only requires that a permit be obtained before cremation. 77 Atty. Gen. 218
Compensation of officers.
The sole compensation of the coroner and deputy coroners for attendance at an inquest and for any preliminary investigation under this chapter at the direction of the district attorney shall be a reasonable sum set by the county board for each day actually and necessarily required for the purpose, and a sum set by the county board for each mile actually and necessarily traveled in performing the duty. Any coroner or deputy coroner may be paid an annual salary and allowance for traveling expenses to be established by the county board under s. 59.22
which shall be in lieu of all fees, per diem and compensation for services rendered.
History: 1975 c. 294
; 1977 c. 187
; 1977 c. 449
; 1983 a. 279
; Stats. 1983 s. 979.11; 1995 a. 201
Fees for morgue services.
A county board may establish a fee for the retention of a body at the morgue after the first day, not to exceed an amount reasonably related to the actual and necessary cost of retaining the body. This charge shall not apply to indigents.
History: 1983 a. 146
; 1983 a. 279
; Stats. 1983 s. 979.12.
Autopsies and toxicological services by medical examiners.
A medical examiner may perform autopsies and toxicological services not required under this chapter and may charge a fee established by the county board for such autopsies and services. The fee may not exceed an amount reasonably related to the actual and necessary cost of providing the service.