Inquest, formal legal inquiry to ascertain a fact. It is most commonly used to investigate death under circumstances where violence is suspected. The coroner, or in some cases a medical examiner, invites the jury to view the body. Then, depending on the evidence presented, the jury decides whether to order a post-mortem examination. It may recommend that a suspect be detained for trial. Inquests are also held to determine damages in cases where the defendant has not appeared in court. The institution is rooted in early English law.