Coroner honored for pursuit of truth

Democrat, Thomas A. Rudd, M.D., Coroner of Lake County, was recently honored as Illinois Law Enforcement Executive of the Year. An article about Rudd and this honor was published in the March 2016 The YOU Journal. Dr. Rudd’s statement in receiving this honor is presented below:

By Thomas A. Rudd, M.S., M.D.

Coroners, medical examiners and pathologists play a vital role in the justice system in matters concerning questions of death investigation. Science, as applied in the justice system, should be objective and neutral. Since our goals are to determine the cause of death and manner of death for certification and public health functions, goals different and distinct from the missions of law enforcement agencies, it is important that medicolegal death investigations be independent.Thomas Rudd

Accurate investigation, examination, reporting and testimony by coroners and medical examiners are important to determine why and how someone has died under sudden, unexpected or violent circumstances. These cases can become the focus of political and legal pressure by individuals or offices seeking to influence the coroner’s, medical examiner’s or even pathologist’s findings. This pressure, even if seemingly unsuccessful in an individual case, can introduce error, bias and corruption into the medicolegal investigation process. Coroners or medical examiners, be they lay people or pathologists, must be allowed to perform (medicolegal death) investigations free from such influences.

For preservation of a fair and just judicial system, it is imperative that the medical examiner/coroner/pathologist remain independent officials, and available to both the prosecuting and defense attorneys. Furthermore, while medical examiners and coroners necessarily work with police in the investigation of death and should have access to law enforcement reports, they should not be dependent upon police for all their information, nor should they be subject to pressure from police to modify their conclusions. In doing our duty, we must be viewed and treated as neutral experts in our field, and not as “prosecution experts” or “defense experts.”

Finally, I want to emphasize that we need to be protected from political pressure from government officials and from litigation directed at intimidating us in the determination of cause of death and manner of death, as I was early in my term of office. We should not be penalized for providing testimony that proves to be helpful for the plaintiff, the prosecution or the defense. For this office has a mission:  to determine the truth and nothing but the truth in regard to how someone has died.

I close with an excerpt from an article entitled, “Just the Facts,” from the New York Times Magazine of November 8, 2015. The author is Mark Leibovich.

“We are all supposedly on journeys to truth. I had a rabbi tell me this once. And to be an agent of truth – a truth teller – is a noble thing. We praise journalists, gadflies, investigators or even politicians that speak ‘truth to power’ and tell ‘hard truths’ and unearth the ‘inconvenient truths’ that defy official narratives and alter our destinies.”


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