Delaware Superior Court Judge T. Henley Graves issued a ruling on Tuesday that sided with Sussex County government in their ongoing battle with Sussex County Sheriff Jeffrey Christopher regarding Christopher’s office having constitutional authority to make arrests.
“To summarize,” wrote Graves, “Delaware’s constitution recognizes the office of sheriff but does not enumerate any specific power or authority held by the office. The Court concludes that the common law authority and responsibilities of the Sheriff are subject to modification and restriction by the legislature. The 2012 legislation extinguishing the Sheriff’s law enforcement powers is valid.”
This particular suit was filed last year after the Delaware General Assembly passed legislation that essentially barred county sheriffs or their deputies from making arrests. Christopher has argued that permitting his department to make arrests and perform other police duties would alleviate the workload on the Delaware State Police, and help with public safety in unincorporated areas of the county.
It’s an argument that makes sense on the surface, as we all want to feel safer in our homes and out on the streets. If Christopher’s office was filled with trained law-enforcement agents, then shouldn’t they be able to make arrests and cite people who break the laws?
We completely understand and appreciate those arguments. We also understand and appreciate the County government’s side, as they would be on the hook for additional funding for officers and liability. The fact of the matter is the General Assembly passed the law — which, by the way, did not change anything in how things are being done in Sussex County as much as enforce the longstanding policy that the sheriffs don’t have arrest authority.
Sussex County Council President Michael H. Vincent issued a statement Tuesday night that showed satisfaction in the court’s findings, and also displayed his forecast on the issue.
“The County is pleased with Judge Graves’ decision in the sheriff’s legal challenge,” said Vincent. “The court’s decision only serves to affirm what the County Council, the State Attorney General’s Office, the Delaware General Assembly and most Sussex Countians have known and said all along — that Delaware sheriffs and their deputies are not consitutionally instilled with the powers of arrest or law enforcement authority. While this may not signal the end of the argument, the County is hopeful it will lay the groundwork in settling this long-running saga once and for all.”
We don’t blame Sheriff Christopher for pursuing this in the least, and we agree that his office holding more authority would help alleviate the burden on the Delaware State Police and would probably help reduce crime in some unincorporated areas. That being said, the answers coming his way have come back consistently against him, and it’s probably time to move on to just handling the duties his office is tasked with to the best of his abilities. Thus far, he has, and we are confident he will continue to do so in the future.