Delaware’s highest court will decide whether sheriffs can make arrests.
In a July 5 letter, Supreme Court Clerk Cathy Howard said all five justices would hear arguments in the case against Sussex County filed by Sussex County Sheriff Jeff Christopher.
Christopher filed the lawsuit against county officials on May 9, 2012, seeking a declaratory judgment affirming his authority to make arrests.
In the lawsuit, Christopher asked the court to rule that he is the chief law enforcement officer in Sussex County and therefore able to carry out law-enforcement duties, including traffic stops and arrests, transporting prisoners and providing crowd control at events.
During oral arguments in the case March 8, Christopher’s attorney, Christos Adamopoulos said according to the Delaware Constitution, the sheriff is a conservator of the peace, and case law says the conservator of the peace has arrest powers.
Deputy Attorney General Edward Black, representing the state, said the Delaware Constitution does not enumerate the powers of the sheriff, and common law powers are subject to change by legislative action.
House Bill 325, signed into law in June 2012, clarified Delaware law specifying sheriffs and deputies do not have arrest powers.
Georgetown attorney David Rutt, representing the county, said Delaware Code lumps sheriffs with other court officials who do not have arrest powers, such as judges and attorneys.
On March 19, Superior Court Judge T. Henley Graves decided against Christopher, ruling sheriffs in Delaware shall not be involved in law enforcement.
Christopher appealed the decision to Delaware Supreme Court April 17. He is now being represented by Georgetown attorney Julianne Murray.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case at 11 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 11, in Dover.