Everyone knows the story of Robin Hood. Who was the bad guy? The Sheriff, of course. But why? He oppressed the people, stole their money – as a public official – and went after the “good guy”. However, he was bound to follow orders (from Prince John). A bad sovereign meant a bad Sheriff.
The Office of the County Sheriff dates back to at least 900 AD in England. The Sheriff had always been charged with protecting the rights and property of the sovereign. When the colonists came to North America, the Sheriff came too. He was still to protect the king’s interests. After the American Revolution, the Citizens became sovereign as individuals. The Office of County Sheriff remained. At that point, it became the duty and authority of the Sheriff to protect the Rights and property of the Sovereign Citizens – from any unlawful action. The Citizens then became the Sheriff’s boss. They still are.
An invaluable reference tool on the authority of the County Sheriff is Anderson on Sheriffs: A Treatise on the Law of Sheriffs, Coroners, and Constables, 1941, reprinted 1982. It’s a two volume handbook for Sheriffs. It can be viewed on-line here. Quotes listed below are all from this book.
Most Sheriffs understand their Office as follows:
“§ 6. Powers and Duties of Sheriff Generally Considered.— … It is not only the power, but the duty, of sheriff in their various jurisdictions to preserve the peace, enforce the laws and arrest and commit to jail felons and other infractors of statutory or common law, and to execute all process to him directed and attend upon the trial courts of record and to preserve peace and quiet, to execute and carry out the mandates, orders and directions of the courts.”
However, it continues:
“Differently stated, the powers and duties of the sheriff are analogous to those imposed by law upon peace officers of modern municipalities, exercised by the sheriff in a larger territory that the lives of the citizens, their persons, property, health, and morals shall be protected and made safe. In the exercise of executive and administrative functions, in conserving the public peace, in vindicating the law, and in preserving the rights of the government, the sheriff represents the sovereignty of the State and he has no superior in his county. (emphasis added) When a situation arises calling therefor it becomes the sheriff’s right, and it is his duty, to determine what the public safety and tranquillity demand, and to act accordingly. He must, of course, act according to law; …”
The “law” referenced here is, first and foremost, the Constitution.
As the Office of County Sheriff predates the Constitution, a vital aspect of the Sheriff’s authority is that it is based in Common Law. In short, Common Law is common sense. The Sheriff is not bound by statutes which contradict the Constitution or Common Law. In fact, he is required to block such unlawful legalities.
§ 44. The Sheriff Essentially a Common Law Officer.—From the very title and by virtue of occupying the office of sheriff it carries with it all the common law powers and duties, except as modified by the State Constitutions and by statutes. The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the county today even as he was at common law. His jurisdiction is co-extensive within the county including all municipalities and townships. Where the State constitution provides for the election of that officer without prescribing in express conditions the duties which shall attach to the office, it is presumed that the duties are those attaching to the office of common law.
One such duty is the calling of a Citizens Grand Jury – the original Jury Nullification. Such a jury is unbound as to their investigative abilities and authority to judge both the facts and the laws.
The “modifications” referred to in section 44 might be misleading. This is addressed in:
§ 43. Rights of the Sheriff as Constitutional Officer.— … While the legislature may impose additional duties upon the sheriff, where he is recognized as a constitutional officer, it cannot restrict or reduce his powers as allowed by the Constitution, or as they were recognized when the Constitution was adopted.
States can not (lawfully) reduce the Citizens’ protections embedded in the Office of County Sheriff.
Lastly, a County Sheriff has the awesome authority and responsibility of the posse comitatus:
§ 6. Powers and Duties of Sheriff Generally Considered.— … The sheriff may and is bound ex officio to pursue and take all traitors, murderers, felons, and other misdoers and commit them to gaol (jail) for safe custody. He is also to defend his country against any of its enemies, when they come into the land; and for this purpose, as well as for keeping the peace or pursuing felons, he may command all of the people of his county to attend him; which is called the posse comitatus, or the power of the county; …
The only other public official with similar authority is a state governor.
Historical documents and court cases confirm that the Sheriff is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in the county and has no superior. The Sheriff is elected by the people and is answerable to them alone. No federal or state agency has authority in the county unless the Sheriff permits it. If, in the Sheriff’s opinion, a proposed action is unconstitutional, the Sheriff is duty-bound, and fully authorized, to block it.
“There is no office so important in the administration of justice as that of a sheriff.”