A Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that Delaware's constitution does not give sheriffs law enforcement powers. The ruling was the culmination of a law suit filed by Sussex County Sheriff Jeffrey Christopher against Sussex County and Delaware officials.
Sussex County Sheriff Jeffrey Christopher has been fighting Sussex County and Delaware officials for more than a year on the issue of Delaware sheriffs' law enforcement powers.
Christopher has continued to argue that due to the sheriff's role as "conservator of the peace" in Delaware's constitution, the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of the county and has constitutional authority to make arrests, enforce motor vehicle laws and process people with outstanding warrants. Both Sussex County and the state, however, have maintained that nothing in state law nor the Constitution grants sheriffs these powers.
The issue came to a head on Tuesday when a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the state of Delaware and Sussex County in that the state constitution does not give the state's sheriffs law enforcement powers.
Christopher filed suit against several county and state parties in 2012 and oral arguments were heard on March 8.
"The Sheriff's attempt to rely on other state courts' interpretation of the phrase
'conservator of the peace' fails because it is not at all clear that the term 'conservator of the
Peace' as used in the Delaware Constitution creates a right or recognizes a right to engage in law
enforcement activities in the office of sheriff," Graves wrote in his official Opinion. "Had the framers of the constitution chosen to limit who was a conservator of the peace to only the office of sheriff, the sheriff would have
been dealt a better hand of cards. But, the framers of all of our constitutions referenced many office holders in our government as being conservators of the peace."
The ruling stated that the Superior Court holds that a sheriff in Delaware shall not be involved in law enforcement and shall not act in any capacity as a police officer or peace officer.
"This decision moots the sheriff's complaints that the county has not properly funded his office and attempts to meddle in his business," Graves wrote.