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Delaware Sheriffs No Longer Allowed to Make Arrests

Photo by Cooperative Extension Service at the 2011 Safe Kids Day

SUSSEX COUNTY, DELAWARE – Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, recently sent out mandates to commissioners informing them that their sheriffs no longer have arrest powers.  This in spite of the fact that Delaware’s Constitution explicitly states: “The sheriffs shall be conservators of the peace within the counties . . . in which they reside.”

Of the three counties in the tiny state, Sheriff Jeff Christopher of Sussex County is the only such official willing to speak his mind about the matter. In his words,”We do have some sheriffs with the courage to tell the federal government to stay out of their counties and not enter unless they clear with the sheriff first. The sheriff is not a part of the federal judicial system.  He holds executive powers.”

In an opinion released Feb. 24, State Solicitor L.W. Lewis said that neither the state nor the common law grants arrest powers to the county sheriffs. His decision appears to be an increasing assault on sheriffs around the country who refuse to cow down to intrusive federal agencies.

Sheriff Christopher was elected in 2010, thinking he was selected by the people to represent them as the top law officer in the county. Instead he finds himself as little more than a glorified clerk of the court. The published purpose of the Sheriff of Sussex County is seen on its website: “This office serves papers for the courts and holds Sheriff’s sales for non-payment of taxes, mortgage foreclosures plus all other court orders. Follow the links on the left for more information.”

This is yet another example of federal and state governments ignoring the will of the people. Christopher has unfortunately found himself in the middle of a fight for the future of American law enforcement as a result of a nationwide effort to abolish the sheriff’s office altogether.

“Now my deputies and I have been relieved of all arrest powers and can’t even make a traffic stop,” he said. “Delaware has only three counties. . . The other two sheriffs . . . will not stand up with me” to prevent the elimination of county law enforcement, he said.

Beau Biden’s ruling against the longtime tradition of the sheriff being the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the county because of election by the people means the state’s usurpation of the office appears to be a foregone conclusion.

County spokesman Chip Guy announced, “The opinion from the attorney general’s office reinforces what has long been the position of the county [that] Delaware sheriffs and their deputies do not have arrest powers and are not in the same vein as state police or municipal officers.”

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The House of Representatives … can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as the great mass of society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interest, and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny.

James Madison, Federalist No. 57, 1788

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