152-7. Duties of coroners with respect to inquests and preliminary hearings.

The duties of the several coroners with respect to inquests and preliminary hearings shall be as follows:

(1) Whenever it appears that the deceased probably came to his death by the criminal act or default of some person, he shall go to the place where the body of such deceased person is and make a careful investigation and inquiry as to when and by what means such deceased person came to his death and the name of the deceased, if to be found out, together with all the material circumstances attending his death, and shall make a complete record of such personal investigation: Provided, however, that the coroner shall not proceed to summon a jury as is hereinafter provided if he shall be satisfied from his personal investigation that the death of the said deceased was from natural causes, or that no person is blamable in any respect in connection with such death, and shall so find and make such finding in writing as a part of his report, giving the reason for such finding; unless an affidavit be filed with the coroner indicating blame in connection with the death of the deceased. A written report of said investigation shall be filed by the coroner with the medical examiner and the district attorney of the superior court.

(2) To empanel a jury of six persons, under oath, to make further inquiry as to the circumstances of death and to call witnesses as necessary to determine the circumstances. The coroner shall order that the names of at least 15 persons be drawn from the jury box in accordance with the procedure in G.S. 9-5. The coroner shall examine the jurors appearing in obedience to the summons, and may excuse jurors for whom service would be an extreme hardship, who would be unable to remain impartial in determining the issues, or are otherwise disqualified to serve as jurors. If the remaining jurors are less than six in number, the coroner shall cause sufficient additional names to be drawn from the jury box and have them summoned, so as to obtain the immediate attendance of at least six qualified jurors. The first six qualified jurors constitute the inquest jury.

(3) If it appears that the deceased was slain, or came to his death in such manner as to indicate any person or persons guilty of the crime in connection with the said death, then the said inquiry shall ascertain who was guilty, either as principal or accessory, or otherwise, if known; and the cause and manner of his death.

(4) Whenever in such investigations, whether preliminary or before his jury, it shall appear to the coroner or to the jury that any person or persons are culpable in the matter of such death, he shall forthwith issue his warrant for such persons and cause the same to be brought before him and the inquiry shall proceed as in the case of preliminary hearings in the district court, and in case it appears to the said coroner and the jury that such persons are probably guilty of any crime in connection with the death of the deceased, then the said coroner shall commit such persons to jail, if it appears that such persons are probably guilty of a capital crime, and in case it appears that such persons are not probably guilty of a capital crime, but are probably guilty of a lesser crime, then such coroner is to have the power and authority to fix bail for such person or persons. All such persons as are found probably guilty in such hearing shall be delivered to the keeper of the common jail for such county by the sheriff or such other officer as may perform his duties at such hearings and committed to jail unless such persons have been allowed and given the bail fixed by such coroner.

(5) As many persons as are found to be material witnesses in the matters involved in such inquiry and hearings, and are not culpable themselves shall be bound in recognizance with sufficient surety to appear at the next superior court to give evidence, and such as may default in giving such recognizance may be by such coroner committed to jail as is provided for State witnesses in other cases.

(6) Immediately upon information of the death of a person within his county, under such circumstances as call for an investigation as provided in G.S. 130A-383, the coroner shall notify the district attorney of the superior court and the medical examiner.

(7) If an inquest or preliminary hearing be ordered, to arrange for the examination of any and all witnesses including those who may be offered by the county medical examiner.

(8) To permit counsel for the family of the deceased, the solicitor of his district, or anyone designated by him, and counsel for any accused person to be present and participate in such hearing and examine and cross-examine witnesses and, whenever a warrant shall have been issued for any accused person, such accused person shall be entitled to counsel and to a full and complete hearing.

(9) To hold his inquiry where the body of the deceased shall be or at any other place in the county, and the body of the deceased need not be present at such hearing. The hearing may be adjourned to other times and places.

(10) To reduce to writing all of the testimony of all witnesses, and to have each witness to sign his testimony in the presence of the coroner, who shall attest the same, and, upon direction of the district attorney of the district, all of the testimony heard by the coroner and his jury shall be taken stenographically, and expense of such taking, when approved by the coroner and the district attorney of the district, shall be paid by the county. When the testimony is taken by a stenographer, the witness shall be caused to sign the same after it has been written out, and the coroner shall attest such signature. The attestation of all the signatures of witnesses who shall testify before the coroner shall include attaching his seal, and such statements, when so signed and attested, shall be received as competent evidence in all courts either for the purpose of contradiction or corroboration of witnesses who make the same, under the same rules as other evidence to contradict or corroborate may be now admitted. The coroner shall file a copy of all written testimony given at the hearing with the county medical examiner and with the district attorney of the superior court. (Code, s. 657; 1899, c. 478; 1905, c. 628; Rev., s. 1051; 1909, c. 707, s. 1; C.S., s. 1020; Ex. Sess. 1924, c. 65; 1955, c. 972, s. 2; 1957, c. 503, ss. 1, 2; 1967, c. 1154, s. 6; 1973, c. 47, s. 2; c. 108, s. 92; c. 558; 2007-484, s. 11(d).)