Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 67

sheriff - Modern usage, Famous American sheriffs, Fictional American sheriffs

court criminal civil sit

Originally, the monarch's representative in the English shires responsible for legal, administrative, and military matters. Since the Middle Ages the office has largely declined in importance in England and Wales, and the sheriff's duties are now largely ceremonial and administrative. The sheriff (commonly known as High Sheriff) acts as the returning officer during parliamentary elections in county constituencies. In Scotland, however, since 1825, sheriffs have been legally qualified judges with a wide civil and criminal jurisdiction. They are appointed from solicitors and advocates of at least 10 years' standing, and sit in the Sheriff Court. In criminal matters they can sit with a jury or alone, if the offence is a summary one, and in civil cases they sit singly. Appeal from the decision of a sheriff goes to the High Court of Justiciary in criminal cases and to the sheriff-principal and thence to the Court of Session in civil matters. In the USA, sheriffs are generally elected in each of the 3000 or more counties. They are responsible for law enforcement principally in rural areas, though many of their duties have been transferred to local or state police. In addition to their law enforcement duties, they serve the function of a court officer executing court orders and holding prisoners.

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