INQUEST, in law, a formal legal inquiry into special matters, as a death, lunacy, an undefended lawsuit or the like; also, the jury making such inquiry. The term had its origin in remote antiquity. It has been in use in Eng gland for various purposes for many centuries. It was used not only for official investigation into jedicial matters but, administrative matters as well.
One of its most Important functions, to day, both in American and in English law, is to investigate deaths under certain circum stances, as in prison, where violence is sus pected, etc. The inquest is usually •in charge of an officer known as the coroner, but some times it is conducted by a medical inspector, as in some jurisdictions in the United States. The evidence at inquests is taken under oath, after the jury has viewed the body. Often medical experts are called in and a post-mortem exami nation made of the body. If the verdict of the jury in attendance finds any person guilty of homicide, be is committed to prison to await trial. See CORONER.
Another function of the inquest is to deter mine whether the government is the lawful owner of lands or goods by forfeiture or lands by escheat. This proceeding is known as °inquest of office° or °office In the United States generally thisproceeding is held by a commissioner, or similar official, under the direction usually of the Attorney-General. Still another function of the inquest is to de termine, under the direction of the sheriff of a county and a jury, the amount of damages due from a defendant to a plaintiff in cases in which the defendant failed to appear or answer and judgment was by default, The procedure is also common cases of garnishment, re plevin and attachment to decide who is entitled to the property in dispute.