Georgetown, Del., Oct. 7, 2013: The Delaware Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court ruling that Delaware’s sheriffs do not have an inherent constitutional right to make arrests, presumably marking the end to a years-long debate over the duties of the elected office.
In a 26-page ruling handed down today, the five-member court – the State’s highest judicial authority – agreed with a March 2013 Superior Court decision that rejected Sussex County Sheriff Jeffrey Christopher’s claim to having arrest powers under the Delaware Constitution. That initial ruling, and the subsequent appeal, followed a lawsuit Sheriff Christopher filed against the County and State after the Delaware General Assembly passed legislation in June 2012 specifically barring sheriffs and their deputies from making arrests.
The Supreme Court found the Delaware General Assembly was within its right to establish, by statute, the authority of Delaware sheriffs and deputies, Sheriff Christopher’s claims notwithstanding. “We hold that the term ‘conservator of the peace’ in the 1776 Delaware Constitution and each successive Delaware Constitution has always been used only to describe a changing variety of public officials,” the court wrote. “That generic collective description has never defined the powers of any specifically named constitutional office holder. The Sheriff’s argument to the contrary is without merit.”
In response to the Supreme Court ruling, County Council President Michael H. Vincent issued the following statement:
The Supreme Court’s decision today hopefully settles the issue once and for all – sheriffs and their deputies are not law enforcement officers in the state of Delaware. All along, the County Council, the Attorney General, the Delaware General Assembly, and the courts have said that. Now that the Supreme Court has settled the matter, we are hopeful Sheriff Christopher will accept the rule of law and return his focus to the office he was elected to serve in.