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Sheriff is both a political and a legal office held under English common law, Scots law or U.S. common law, or the person who holds such office.


Modern usage


The office of Sheriff was first established in Australia in 1824. This was simultaneous with the appointment of the first Chief Justice of New South Wales. The role of the Sheriff has not been static, nor is it identical in each Australian State. In the past his duties included; executing court judgments, acting as a coroner, the transportation of prisoners, managing the gaols, and carrying out executions (through the employment of an anonymous hangman). Currently, the criminal law of no Australian State provides for capital punishment. A government department (usually called the Department of Corrections or similar) now runs the prison system and the Coroner’s Office handles coronial matters. The Sheriff is now largely responsible for enforcing the civil orders and fines of the court (seizing and selling the property of judgment debtors who do not satisfy the debt), providing court security and running the jury system.


Various jurisdictions in Canada on provincial and sub-provincial levels operate sheriff's departments primarily concerned with court bailiff services such as courtroom security, post-arrest prisoner transfer, serving legal processes, and executing civil judgments. Most Canadian sheriff vehicles are not equipped with flashing lights or sirens, as emergency response or pursuit are police responsibilities, and the professional training (and hence wage) given to sheriff's deputies is not as extensive as that for municipal police or Royal Canadian Mounted Police constables. In other parts of Canada not covered by a sheriff's agency, bailiff functions are handled directly by the local or provincial police or by the RCMP as appropriate.

United Kingdom

City of London

In the City of London, the position of sheriff is one of the officers of the Corporation. Two are elected by the liverymen of the City each year to assist the Lord Mayor, attend the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey, and present petitions to Parliament: usually one is an alderman and the other not. The aldermanic sheriff is then likely to become Lord Mayor in due course.


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}} In Scotland, a sheriff is a judge in the second-tier court, called the Sheriff Court. The sheriff is a professional, law-trained judge, in comparison with the District Courts in Scotland or the lower-level courts in England, both of which are presided over by lay magistrates.

The sheriff court is the court of first instance for both civil and criminal cases. However, but the court's sentencing powers are limited, such that major crimes such as rape or murder and complex or high-value civil cases are dealt with in the High Court (for criminal matters) or the Court of Session (for civil matters).

There are six Sheriffdoms in Scotland, each with a Sheriff Principal. Under each sheriffdom are sheriff districts, each with a court presided over by a sheriff.

Sheriffs are usually advocates and increasingly solicitors with many years legal experience. Until recently, they were appointed by the Scottish Executive, on the advice of the Lord Advocate. However, the Scotland Act 1998 introduced the European Convention of Human Rights into Scots law. A subsequent legal challenge to the impartiality of the Sheriffs based on the provisions of the Convention led to the setting up of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, which now makes recommendations to the First Minister, who nominates all judicial appointments in Scotland other than in the District Court. Nominations are made to the Prime Minister, who in turn makes the recommendation to the Queen.

(See: Scots law)

United States

In the United States a sheriff is generally, but not always, the highest, usually elected, law-enforcement officer of a county. The political election of a person to serve as a police leader is a uniquely American tradition. All law-enforcement officers working for the agency headed by a sheriff are called sheriff's deputies or deputy sheriffs and are so called because they are deputized by the sheriff to perform the same duties as him or her. They may be subdivided into general deputies and special deputies. In some places, the sheriff has the responsibility to recover any deceased persons within their county. That is why often the full title is Deputy Sheriff-Coroner or Deputy Sheriff Coroner or Deputy Sheriff/Coroner and the sheriff's title is Sheriff‑Coroner or Sheriff Coroner or Sheriff/Coroner. The second-in-command of the department is sometimes called an undersheriff. This is akin to the deputy chief of police position of a police department.

In the US, the relationship between the sheriff and other police departments varies widely from state to state, and indeed in some states from county to county. In the northeast the sheriff's duties have been greatly reduced with the advent of state level law enforcement agencies, especially the state police and local agencies such as the county police.

Sheriffs generally fall into three broad categories:

  • Restricted service - providing basic services such as keeping the jail, transporting prisoners, providing courthouse security and other duties with regard to service of process and summonses that are issued by county and state courts. The sheriff also often conducts auction sales of real property in foreclosure in many jurisdictions, and is often also empowered to conduct seizures of chattel property that is being seized to satisfy a judgment. In other jurisdictions, these civil process duties are performed by other officers, such as a marshal or constable.
  • Limited service - along with the above perform some type of traditional law enforcement function such as investigations and patrol. This may be limited to security police duties on county properties(and others by contract) to the performance of these duties in unincorporated areas of the county, and some incorporated ares by contract.
  • Full service - provides all tradition law enforcement functions to include countywide patrol and investigations irrespective of municipal boundries.

The federal equivalent to the office of sheriff is the United States Marshals Service, an agency of the Department of Justice: there is one U.S. Marshal for each federal judicial district (94 total); the Marshal and his or her deputies are responsible for the transport of prisoners and security for the United States District Courts, and also issue and enforce certain civil process.

There are about 3,500 County Sheriff's Offices in the United States ranging from 1 or 2 man forces to the 11,000 member Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept. The average Sheriff's Office in the United States employs 24.5 sworn officers.

Compare to the former role of High Sheriff in England and Wales.


In California, the sheriff's office of each county polices those areas of the county that are not lying within the jurisdiction of a police department (e.g., incorporated cities). As such, the sheriff and sheriff's deputies are in rural areas and unincorporated municipalities more or less equivalent to police officers in California cities. The San Francisco County Sheriff also had such authority but in practice relegates itself to judicial duties only. They may provide policing services by contract. Sheriffs assumed the duties of the County Marshal Offices by 2000.


Connecticut abolished sheriffs and constables by popular referendum in 2002. All have become State Marshals.


Although the Delaware Constitution states that the sheriff of each of the state's three counties is the "conservator of the peace", the Delaware Code does not include sheriffs in its definition of "law enforcement officer". In practice, deputy sheriffs handle only civil matters, serving writs, summonses and other legal process, and carrying out sheriff's sales. Delaware sheriffs have only one, extremely narrow criminal function, which is to detain at the courthouse defendants who are brought in or turn themselves in on outstanding capiases. Court security is handled by the Delaware Capitol Police, and law-enforcement in the unincorporated areas of the state by the Delaware State Police or the New Castle County Police (in New Castle County).

The apparent conflict between the Delaware Constitution and the Delaware Code recently led to a miniature constitutional crisis in which the Sussex County Sheriff claimed that the Constitution made him the chief law-enforcement officer of the county, thereby empowering him and his deputies to patrol the county and make arrests. The issue came to a head when the Sheriff placed flashing emergency lights and sirens on his department's vehicles, leading the state Department of Transportation to suspend the vehicles' registrations and threaten arrest of any deputy sheriff who was driving such a vehicle.[1] The Sheriff unsuccessfully argued for broader powers before the Supreme Court of Delaware, and has also unsuccessfully lobbied the Sussex County Council for expanded powers.[2]


The Sheriffs in Florida are general service agencies by state law with the exception of Miami-Dade County which has two sheriffs. One sheriff is simoultaneously the Metropolitan Sheriff and the Director of Public Safety. As the Director of Public Safety he serves as the chief of the Miami-Dade Police. The other is the a sheriff and Director of corrections and is charged with the care and custody of prisoners.


One of five county officials listed in the state constitution, Sheriffs in Georgia are full-service county officers. Article IX Section I of the constitution specifies that Sheriffs "shall be elected by the qualified voters of their respective counties for a term of four years and shall have such qualifications, powers and duties as provided by general law."

Most of the qualifications, powers and duties of a Sheriff in Georgia are detailed in Title 15, Chapter 16 of state law. Among other things, the law states that "the sheriff is the basic law enforcement officer of the several counties of this state." Section 10 makes it clear that the sheriff has as much authority within municipalities as he does in unincorporated areas of his county, although many sheriffs refrain from performing standard law enforcement functions within municipalities that have their own police department unless specifically requested to do so, or are required to do so in order to fulfill other provisions in state law.

In addition to law enforcement, sheriffs or their deputies execute and return all processes and orders of the courts; receive, transport, and maintain custody of incarcerated individuals for court; attend the place or places of holding elections; keep all courthouses, jails, public grounds, and other county property; maintain a register of all precious metal dealers; enforce the collection of taxes that may be due to the state; as well as numerous other duties.

The office of Sheriff in Georgia existed in colonial times, and was included in the first official constitution of Georgia in 1777. There is no limit to how many terms a Sheriff may serve. Title 15, Chapter 16, Section 40 of Georgia law specifies that, upon reaching 75 years of age, a Sheriff who has held that office for 45 or more years automatically holds the honorary office of sheriff emeritus of the State of Georgia.


In Hawaii, the Office of Sheriff falls under the Sheriff Division of the State Department of Public Safety.[3] It is the functional equivalent of a state police department and has the distinction of making Hawaii the only U.S. state without an officially named state police department and one of two with a statewide Sheriff's Department(the other being Rhode Island). Although the Sheriff Division's jurisdiction covers the entire state, its primary functions are judicial and executive protection, security at the state capitol, law-enforcement at Hawaii's airports, narcotics enforcement, prisoner transportation, the processing and service of court orders and warrants, and the patrol of certain roads and waterways in conjunction with other state agencies.


Louisiana sheriffs generally fall into the general service category with a number of Louisiana municipal parishes (a sub-State civil entity similar to a county in other states) operate two types of sheriffs:

  • a criminal sheriff - concentrates on law enforcement functions
  • a civil sheriff - concerned with judicial and civil matters, property disposition, and so forth.


In Massachusetts, counties that have sheriffs elect them to serve the needs of the geographic area covered by the county in certain aspects of law enforcement. All local law enforcement is handled at that city and town level, and state-level law enforcement is handled by the state police. Sheriffs do not have general police jurisdiction in their counties - permission is needed to patrol a municipality.


All Nebraska counties have sheriff's departments responsibile for general law enforcement functions except for areas covered by local city police departments. In larger cities such as Omaha or Lincoln, Sherriff's Departments performs mainly judicial duties such as serving warrants and courtroom security. Sheriff's deputies in Nebraska are certified by the state law enforcement commission and have full arrest powers.

New Jersey

Sheriffs in New Jersey are sworn law-enforcement officers with full arrest powers.[4] They also serve writs and other legal process and perform court security functions.

New York

Like many other states, sheriffs in the State of New York are regular law-enforcement officers.

New York City

The City of New York has a single Sheriff's Office serving the entire city; the Administrative Division headed by the NYC Sheriff and his staff controls the five county Divisions (each corresponding to a NYC borough) with an Undersheriff and Deputy sheriffs plus clerical staff. The Sheriff is appointed by the Mayor of New York City and reports to the Commissioner of Finance of the city's Department of Finance. The Sheriff's duties embrace the entire field of law, both criminal and civil. He is traditionally the chief peace officer in his jurisdiction and, like any peace officer, is required by law to take appropriate action when breaches of the criminal law occur. In New York City, the sheriff continues to maintain the dual role of enforcing judicial process as well as keeping the peace whenever called upon by the citizenry or the court system. The New York City Sheriff's Department carries out civil functions such as serving process and writs, evictions, serving mental hygiene and Family Court warrants, enforcing traffic and parking laws, and conducting sheriff's sales. The other traditional functions of a sheriff's office, such as court security and guarding prisoners, are handled by NYC Court Officers the NYC Deprtment of Corrections. The City Marshal also performs some overlapping duties such as evictions.


Pennsylvania sheriffs may have all the traditional sheriff powers but in practice perform only traditionl court related functions since the establishmant of the Pennsylvania State Police in 1905. The status of Pennsylvania's county sheriffs was in a legal grey area for many years. While sheriffs routinely provided court security, prisoner transport, and civil process services, it was less than clear whether they had actual law-enforcement powers. In the 1970s through the early 1990s, a number of defendants charged by deputy sheriffs with crimes attempted to suppress the results of their arrests on the basis that the deputies were not bona fide law-enforcement officers. In Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Leet, a 1991 decision by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, a 2-1 majority of the Court held that deputy sheriffs had no law-enforcement powers. That decision was reversed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a 1994 decision by Justice John P. Flaherty, which held that sheriffs do indeed have the power to enforce motor-vehicle laws. In his majority opinion, Justice Flaherty spent a great deal of time exploring the historical roots of the office of Sheriff and concluded that the powers developed as a matter of common law:

Though it may be unnecessary to cite additional authority, Blackstone confirms the common law power of the sheriff to make arrests without warrant for felonies and for breaches of the peace committed in his presence. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Common Law, Vol. IV, at 289. Indeed, such powers are so widely known and so universally recognized that it is hardly necessary to cite authority for the proposition. To make the point, how few children would question that the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham had at least the authority to arrest Robin Hood.

Presently, every Pennsylvania county has a Sheriff's Office. This has led to some overlap in places such as Allegheny County, where the Allegheny County Police were established in the 1960s to carry out countywide law-enforcement and patrol the Pittsburgh International Airport and the Delaware County Park and Courthouse police provide security police functions. With the newly-expanded powers of the County Sheriff, however, this has led to some power struggles. Another example is the Philadelphia Sheriff's Department, which has made clear its intent to carry out community law-enforcement while continuing its statutory duties.[5] This would obviously conflict with the role of the Philadelphia Police Department.

Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Division of the High Sheriff, is a state judicial officer with a High Sheriff who is responsible for state court security and seven county sheriff's responsible for State District court duties. Each Rhode Island county has only judicial functions.


In Tennessee, the sheriff is an elected officer with full police functions.


The Governor of Texas serves as the High Sheriff and Chief Texas Ranger while each of the 273 counties in Texas has an elected Sheriff responsible for all traditional duties to include law enforcement.

West Virginia

In West Virginia, the sheriff of a given county juggles his or her time between two distinct duties. They are the chief law enforcement officers in the county, although much of this duty is handled by their chief deputies. They are also responsible for the collection of any taxes due to the county. While many sheriffs have a background in professional law enforcement, others are politicians or other local notables. West Virginia sheriffs are limited to two consecutive four-year terms.


Like the word sheriff itself, the office of sheriff has an interesting history. In Anglo-Saxon England, a reeve was an officer who was appointed by the king to be responsible for the public business of the locality. A high-ranking official, the shire-reeve was the representative of the royal authority in a shire or county. The office of sheriff was continued after the Norman conquest, then known as a viscount. The office eventually returned to the title "Sheriff", and "Viscount" became an inherited title of nobility.

The most famous holder of this office was the folkloric Sheriff of Nottingham, enemy of Robin Hood.

Famous American Sheriffs

Fictional American sheriffs

Perhaps the most famous legendary sheriff is the Sheriff of Nottingham of the Robin Hood legends. Many Western movies feature sheriffs of frontier towns who are either corrupt weaklings or glorious heroes who eventually rid their towns of all their mean elements. See Destry Rides Again and Dodge City for two examples of the latter type.

See also

Other uses

fa:کلانتر it:Sceriffo nl:Sheriff ja:保安官 pt:Xerife ru:Шериф sv:Sheriff

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