In the U.S., the chief law-enforcement officer for the courts in a county. He is ordinarily elected, and he may appoint a deputy. The sheriff and his deputy have the power of police officers to enforce criminal law and may summon private citizens (the posse comitatus, or “force of the county”) to help maintain the peace. The main judicial duty of the sheriff is to execute processes and writs of the courts. Officers of this name also exist in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In England the office of sheriff existed before the Norman Conquest (1066).
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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."
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.
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.
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 both cases sheriffs are charged with enforcing civil judgements against debtors within their bailiwick. Outside Dublin and Cork the County Registrar carries out the functions of the sheriff regarding judgements. The Dublin and Cork sheriffs also perform all the duties of returning officers in elections (other than local elections) and some other duties concerning pounds. Sheriffs may appoint court messengers, subject to approval of the Minister for Justice, to assist them with their work.
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, deputy sheriffs, sheriff's officers, or sheriff's police 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 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. In Vermont, for instance, the sheriff (elected) is primarily an officer of the County Court, whose duties include running the county jail and serving papers in lawsuits and foreclosures. Law enforcement patrol is performed as well, in support of State Police and in the absence of a municipal police agency in rural towns. Some such towns contract with the Sheriff to provide dedicated law enforcement presence in lieu of creating a local police force.
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, together known as the Five Boroughs, each of which contains an Undersheriff. NYC Deputy Sheriffs are granted peace officer status under New York State penal law and enforce court orders including child support enforcement. NYC Deputy Sheriffs also serve court process papers and assist in enforcing court judgements. NYC Deputy Sheriffs 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. Deputy Sheriffs are selected through civil service exams given by the city of New York.