inquest, in law, a body of men appointed by law to inquire into certain matters. The term also refers to the inquiry itself as well as to the findings of the inquiry. The most usual form of inquest today is that conducted by the coroner to discover the cause of a death that was sudden, violent, or occurred in prison. This inquest is similar to the proceedings of a grand jury. Witnesses are called, but a person suspected of guilt is not permitted to make a defense. Natural death, accidental death, suicide, and murder are among the possible findings. Criminal prosecution may follow a verdict of murder or culpable accident.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.