AskDefine | Define sheriff

Dictionary Definition

sheriff n : the principal law-enforcement officer in a county

User Contributed Dictionary



scīrġerēfa, corresponding to shire + reeve.


  • /'ʃɛrɪf/


  1. excl. (High Sheriff) An official of a shire or county office, responsible for carrying out court orders and other duties.
  2. A judge in the sheriff court, the court of a county or sheriffdom.
  3. A police officer, usually the chief of police for a county or other district.

Extensive Definition

Sheriff is both a political and a legal office held under English common law, Scots law or U.S. common law, or the person who holds such office. The term "sheriff" originates from the older office position of "shire reeve".


See article History of the sheriff

Early modern usage

"The sheriff is an officer of high respectability in our judical system, and was known to the most early ages of the common law." (James Wilson, Lectures on Law, vol. 2, chapter 7, "The subject continued. Of sheriffs and coroners.") At the time Wilson stated this, in 1790-1, the powers and duties of a sheriff were "in general, coincident with those of a [marshal]." At that time, marshals were appointed "for each district for the term of four years; but [were] removable from... office at pleasure." According to the then state of constitutional law, the "president nominates, and, with the advice and consent of the senate, appoints him."
Wilson also notes that the office of coroner is, "in many instances, a necessary substitute: for if the sheriff is interested in a suit, or if he is of affinity with one of the parties to a suit, the coroner must execute and return the process of the courts of justice."

Modern usage


The office of Sheriff was first established in Australia in 1824. This was simultaneous with the appointment of the first Chief Justice of New South Wales. The role of the Sheriff has not been static, nor is it identical in each Australian State. In the past his duties included: executing court judgements, acting as a coroner, the transportation of prisoners, managing the gaols, and carrying out executions (through the employment of an anonymous hangman). Currently, no Australian State provides for capital punishment. A government department (usually called the Department of Corrections or similar) now runs the prison system and the Coroner’s Office handles coronial matters. The Sheriff is now largely responsible for enforcing the civil orders and fines of the court (seizing and selling the property of judgement debtors who do not satisfy the debt), providing court security, enforcing arrest warrants, evictions, taking juveniles into custody and running the jury system.


Various jurisdictions in Canada on provincial and sub-provincial levels operate sheriff's departments primarily concerned with court bailiff services such as courtroom security, post-arrest prisoner transfer, serving legal processes, and executing civil judgments. Sheriffs are defined under Section 2 of the Criminal Code of Canada as "peace officers" and in many cases have the same authority as a police officer. In other parts of Canada not covered by a sheriff's agency, bailiff functions are handled directly by the local, provincial police or Royal Canadian Mounted Police as appropriate.


In 2006 the Province of Alberta expanded the duties of the provincial Sheriffs department to include tasks such as traffic enforcement, investigation and fugitive apprehension. As of June 2008 the Provincial Sheriffs department consists of 105 Sheriffs who are assigned to one of three regions of the province.


see also Sheriff of Mumbai Among cities in India, only Mumbai (Bombay), Chennai (Madras) and Kolkata (Calcutta) have a Sheriff. The Sheriff has an apolitical, non-executive role. Sheriffs preside over various city-related functions and conferences and welcome foreign guests. The post is second to the mayor in the protocol list.

United Kingdom

England and Wales

The High Sheriff is, or was, a law enforcement position in Anglosphere countries. The High Sheriff of an English or Welsh county is an unpaid, partly ceremonial post appointed by The Crown through a Warrant from the Privy Council. In Cornwall the High Sheriff is appointed by the Duke of Cornwall.
Historically, the court officers empowered to enforce High Court writs were called Sheriffs or Sheriff's Officers. In April 2007 they were replaced by High Court enforcement officers.

City of London

In the City of London, the position of sheriff is one of the officers of the Corporation. Two are elected by the liverymen of the City each year to assist the Lord Mayor, attend the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey, and present petitions to Parliament: usually one is an alderman and the other is not. The aldermanic sheriff is then likely to become Lord Mayor in due course.


see also Scots law In Scotland, a sheriff is an analogous to a judge and sits in a second-tier court, called the Sheriff Court. The Sheriff is legally qualified, in comparison with a lay Justice of the Peace who preside over the first-tier District Courts in Scotland.
The sheriff court is a court of first instance for the majority of both civil and criminal cases. However, the court's powers are limited, so that major crimes such as rape or murder and complex or high-value civil cases are dealt with in the High Court (for criminal matters) or the Court of Session (for civil matters).
There are six Sheriffdoms in Scotland, each with a Sheriff Principal. Within each Sheriffdom there are several Sheriff Courts; each Court has at least one courtroom and at least one Sheriff. A Sheriff may sit at different courts throughout the Sheriffdom. Scottish Courts Website
Sheriffs are usually advocates and, increasingly, solicitors with many years legal experience. Until recently, they were appointed by the Scottish Executive, on the advice of the Lord Advocate. However, the Scotland Act 1998 introduced the European Convention of Human Rights into Scots law. A subsequent legal challenge to the impartiality of the Sheriffs based on the provisions of the Convention led to the setting up of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, which now makes recommendations to the First Minister, who nominates all judicial appointments in Scotland other than in the District Court. Nominations are made to the Prime Minister, who in turn makes the recommendation to the Queen.


In the Republic of Ireland sheriff is a job title held by persons charged with either enforcing court judgements or recovering outstanding taxes on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners. City or county sheriffs are appointed by the government whom, on the granting of a court order can seize goods and chattels or, under the order of the revenue's Collector-General, demand payment against tax. The city or county Sheriff is also the returning officer in elections in both Dublin city county and Cork city and county.
In some counties the county registrar performs these duties in lieu of a sheriff. Additionally, each of the twenty six county registrars is responsible for jury selection when the circuit court requires it in that county.

United States

In the United States a sheriff is generally (but not always) the highest, usually elected, law enforcement officer of a county and commander of militia in that county. The political election of a person to serve as a police leader is an almost uniquely American tradition. (The practice has been followed in the British Channel Island of Jersey since at least the 16th century.) All law enforcement officers working for the agency headed by a sheriff are called sheriff's deputies or deputy sheriffs and are so called because they are deputized by the sheriff to perform the same duties as he. (In some states, however, a Sheriff may not be a sworn officer but merely an elected official in charge of sworn officers.) These officers may be subdivided into general deputies and special deputies. In some places, the sheriff has the responsibility to recover any deceased persons within their county. That is why often the full title is Deputy Sheriff-Coroner, Deputy Sheriff Coroner or Deputy Sheriff/Coroner, and the sheriff's title is Sheriff Coroner or Sheriff/Coroner. The second-in-command of the department is sometimes called an undersheriff or "Chief Deputy". This is akin to the deputy chief of police position of a police department. In some counties, the undersheriff is the Warden of the county Jail (gaol) or other local Correctional institution.
In many areas of the United States, the sheriff is also responsible for collecting the taxes and may have other titles such as Tax Collector or County Treasurer.
In the U.S., the relationship between the sheriff and other police departments varies widely from state to state, and indeed in some states from county to county. In the northeastern U.S., the sheriff's duties have been greatly reduced with the advent of state-level law enforcement agencies, especially the state police and local agencies such as the county police.
Sheriff offices may coexist with other county level law enforcement agencies such as the County police, County park police, county detectives etc.

High Sheriff in the United States

Some U.S. States have a similar position to the British High Sheriff; however, only the states of Hawaii, Virginia, New Hampshire and Rhode Island still use it.
The New York City Sheriff's Office is the oldest civil law enforcement agency in the city of New York with jurisdiction that covers New York City, which contains five counties, also known as The Five Boroughs, each of which contains an Undersheriff. The NYC Sheriffs deputies are granted Peace Officer Status under New York State Penal law and enforce court orders including child support enforcement. City Sheriff Deputies also serve court process papers and assist in enforcing court judgements. NYC Sheriffs Deputies may make arrests for violations of State or city law as well as for contempt of court orders and arrests under NYS mental hygiene laws. Deputies are selected through civil service exams given by the city of New York.

See also


sheriff in German: Sheriff
sheriff in Spanish: Sheriff
sheriff in Persian: کلانتر
sheriff in French: Shérif
sheriff in Icelandic: Fógeti
sheriff in Italian: Sceriffo
sheriff in Hungarian: Seriff
sheriff in Dutch: Sheriff
sheriff in Japanese: 保安官
sheriff in Norwegian: Sheriff
sheriff in Polish: Szeryf
sheriff in Portuguese: Xerife
sheriff in Russian: Шериф
sheriff in Finnish: Seriffi
sheriff in Swedish: Sheriff
sheriff in Turkish: Şerif (görevli)
sheriff in Ukrainian: Шериф

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

G-man, MP, bailiff, beadle, beagle, bound bailiff, captain, catchpole, chief of police, commissioner, constable, deputy, deputy sheriff, detective, fed, federal, flic, gendarme, government man, inspector, lictor, lieutenant, mace-bearer, marshal, mounted policeman, narc, officer, patrolman, peace officer, police captain, police commissioner, police constable, police inspector, police matron, police officer, police sergeant, policeman, policewoman, portreeve, reeve, roundsman, sergeant, sergeant at arms, superintendent, tipstaff, tipstaves, trooper
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