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Unofficial Opinion 97-18

Unofficial Opinion 97-18

May 29, 1997
To: 

Chairman
Georgia Coroner's Training Council

Re: 

A coroner may not serve as a deputy sheriff. A deputy coroner should not serve as a deputy sheriff. A coroner or deputy coroner also should not serve as a city police officer.

You have asked for an opinion on the question of whether a coroner or deputy coroner may hold office of deputy sheriff or city police officer within the same county. To answer these inquiries, I have reviewed Georgia statutory authority and applicable case law. I have also considered the possible conflicts of interest which may arise when one individual holds two of the aforementioned positions.

1. May a coroner hold the position of deputy sheriff?

Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 45-2-2 states:

No person shall hold, in any manner whatever, or be commissioned to hold more than one county office at one time, except by special enactment of the General Assembly; nor shall any commissioned officer be deputy for any other commissioned officer, except by such special enactment.

Pursuant to this Code Section, a coroner may not serve as a sheriff or a deputy sheriff, unless the legislature has specifically provided otherwise. Carter v. Veal, 42 Ga. App. 88 (1930); 1969 Op. Att'y Gen. 69-356; 1958-59 Op. Att'y Gen. p. 38; 1954-56 Op. Att'y Gen. p. 54.

2. May a deputy coroner also hold the position of deputy sheriff?

A deputy coroner also may not serve as a deputy sheriff, due to the incompatible duties of the respective offices. The Attorney General issued an unofficial opinion in 1981 addressing this question. Unofficial Opinion 81-6 states that a deputy sheriff may not also serve as deputy coroner. Since deputy sheriffs and deputy coroners are appointed rather than elected, neither are county officers within the meaning of O.C.G.A. § 45-2-2 and its prohibition does not apply. Thus, the 1981 opinion focused on the statutory and common law duties of the deputy sheriff and deputy coroner. At common law, one person could simultaneously hold two public offices unless the two were incompatible, and incompatibility existed when the performance of the duties of one office interfered with the performance of the duties of the other. 1981 Op. Att'y Gen. U81-6

The deputy coroner has the same powers as the coroner and is empowered to act as coroner when that officer is unable to act. O.C.G.A. § 45-16-7. Duties of the coroner which the deputy could assume under the Georgia Death Investigation Act include ordering a medical examiner's inquiry; taking charge of a dead body; ordering an inquest and impaneling a jury for that purpose; filing a death certificate; disposing of an unclaimed body; and disinterring a body. O.C.G.A. §§ 45-16-24, -25, -27, -36, -37, -44, -45. The peace officer in charge is the investigating law enforcement official in cases of deaths under the jurisdiction of the coroner and may be a deputy sheriff or a city police officer. O.C.G.A. §§ 45-16-21, -25. Further, O.C.G.A. § 45-15-25 refers to the peace officer in charge and the coroner as distinct positions with distinct duties and clearly contemplates that different persons carry out the duties of each. Coroners and their deputies have charge of the body, while the peace officer in charge has jurisdiction over the scene of death. A situation may arise in which one individual could not properly carry out the duties of both offices. Thus it appears that the offices of deputy coroner and deputy sheriff are incompatible because of inconsistent duties under O.C.G.A. § 45-16-25.

Based on the foregoing, it is my unofficial opinion that a deputy coroner should not serve as a deputy sheriff because the duties of the two offices are incompatible.

3. May a coroner or a deputy coroner hold the position of a city police officer?

Previous unofficial opinions of the Attorney General have considered the question of whether a coroner or deputy coroner could serve as a city police officer. 1969 Op. Att'y Gen. U69-356; 1958-59 Op. Att'y Gen. p. 38; 1957 Op. Att'y Gen. p. 20. These opinions focused solely on statutory prohibitions and did not consider the issue of inconsistent duties.

Unofficial Opinion 69-356 reasoned that a county coroner may not also be a deputy sheriff, but may be a city policeman. The opinion found no constitutional or statutory prohibition which would prohibit a coroner from holding the position of city police officer. However, in light of the analysis in Unofficial Opinion 81-6, a coroner or deputy coroner is prohibited by conflicts of interest from holding the position of city police officer. A police officer, like a deputy sheriff, may be a "peace officer in charge" of the scene of death. O.C.G.A. §§ 45-16-21(12), -25. Since the duties of a coroner or deputy coroner could conflict and interfere with the duties of a city police officer in charge of a scene of death, it is my unofficial opinion that the two offices are incompatible and should not be occupied by the same person simultaneously.

In summary, a coroner may not serve as a deputy sheriff pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 45-2-2. While there is no statutory authority to answer your questions concerning deputy coroners directly, deputy coroners may not assume the positions of deputy sheriff or city police officer due to the incompatibility of the offices. Likewise, a coroner should not serve as a city police officer. A review of statutory duties of the respective offices indicates that this type of dual office-holding is prohibited by common-law incompatibility.

Prepared by:

LAURA JONES FRENCH
Assistant Attorney General