The office of sheriff is ancient in origin; its beginning can be traced back centuries to medieval England. The office of sheriff has been provided for in each of Tennessee’s three constitutions (1796, 1835and 1870) and was retained in the latest amendment in 1978. The sheriff is elected to a four-year term in the August general election in the same year in which the governor is elected.
The Tennessee Constitution does not prescribe the duties of the office of sheriff even though sheriffs are constitutional officers. The office of sheriff carries all the common-law powers and duties except as modified by statute. The sheriff’s duties were originally defined by the common law but are now largely prescribed by statute. Over time, the sheriff’s responsibilities have expanded from being primarily ministerial to include peacekeeping functions. Today, the sheriff’s statutory duties encompass his common law duties and can be grouped into four broad categories: (1) keeping the peace, (2) attending the courts, (3) serving the process and orders of the courts, and (4) operating the jail.
(1) Keeping the Peace
The sheriff “is the commander in chief of the law forces of the county. All judicial and ministerial officers of justice and all city officials are required to aid him, and the male population of his county is subject to his command ‘in the prevention and suppression,’ not only of violent breaches of the peace, but of all public offenses.” State ex rel. Thompson v. Reichman, 188 S.W. 225,227-228 (Tenn. 1916). “The duties and powers of a sheriff within the limits of an incorporated city are precisely the same that they are in the remainder of the county. The law draws no distinction.” Reichman at 228. The sheriff is the conservator of the peace, and it is the sheriff’s duty to suppress all affrays, riots, routs, unlawful assemblies, insurrections, or other breaches of the peace. In addition, it is the duty of the sheriff to ferret out, detect, and prevent crime, to secure evidence of crimes; and to apprehend and arrest criminals. The sheriff is also charged with patrolling the roads of the county. The sheriff must furnish the necessary deputies to carry out these duties. T.C.A. §§ 8-8-213, 38-3-102, and 38-3-108.
(2) Attending the Courts
The sheriff is charged with the custody and security of the courthouse unless the county legislative body assigns this duty to someone else. It is the duty of the sheriff to prevent trespasses, exclude intruders, and keep the courthouse and the courthouse grounds in order, reporting from time to time the repairs required and the expense, to the county legislative body. Further, it is the duty of the sheriff to see that the state and national flags are properly displayed in each court room while the county legislative body is in session. T.C.A. § 5-7-108. It is the duty of the sheriff to attend upon all the courts held in the county when in session, cause the courthouse or courtroom to be kept in order for the accommodation of the courts, and obey the lawful orders and directions of the court. T.C.A. § 8-8-201(a)(2). And, unless otherwise provided, it is the duty of the sheriff in every county to provide sufficient bailiffs to serve the general sessions courts. T.C.A.§ 16-15-715. Furthermore, it is the duty of the sheriff to furnish the necessary deputies and special deputies to attend and dispense with the business of the juvenile courts. T.C.A. §37-1-213.
(3) Serving the Process and Orders of the Courts
It is the duty of the sheriff to execute and return, according to law, the process and orders of the courts of record of this state, and of officers of competent authority, with due diligence, when delivered to the sheriff for that purpose. T.C.A. § 8-8-201(a)(1). It is the duty of the sheriff to execute within the county all writs and other process legally issued and directed to the sheriff and make due return thereof, either personally or by a lawful deputy or, in civil lawsuits only, by a lawfully appointed civil process server. T.C.A. §8-8-201(a)(5)(A). The provisions of T.C.A. § 8-8-201(a)(5)(A) relative to civil process servers do not apply in Hamilton, McMinn, Sullivan and Sumner counties. T.C.A. § 8-8-201(a)(5)(B). It is the duty of the sheriff to levy every writ of execution upon a defendant’s property, first on the defendant’s goods and chattels if there are any and upon the defendant’s lands in order to satisfy the plaintiff’s judgment, and upon a surety’s property in the proper case. T.C.A. § 8-8-201(a)(13), (14), and (15).
(4) Operating the Jail
Tennessee case law makes it clear that the sheriff, by virtue of his office, is the jailor and is entitled to the custody of the jail. It is the duty of the sheriff to take charge and custody of the jail of the sheriff’s county and of the prisoners therein. The sheriff is charged with receiving those persons lawfully committed to the jail and with keeping them personally or by deputies or jailer until they are lawfully discharged. It is the duty of the sheriff to be constantly at the jail or have someone there with the keys to liberate the prisoners in case of fire. T.C.A. § 8-8-201(a)(3).
AUTHORITY TO CARRY HANDGUNS
Pursuant to T.C.A. § 39-17-1315(a)(1), the sheriff has the authority to authorize the carry of handguns by bonded and sworn deputy sheriffs who have successfully completed and continue to successfully complete on an annual basis a firearm training program of at least eight hours duration. The sheriff’s authorization must be made by a written directive, a copy of which must be retained by the sheriff’s office. Pursuant to the sheriff’s written directive, POST certified deputy sheriffs may carry their handgun at all times, regardless of the deputy’s regular duty hours or assignments. Nothing in T.C.A. § 39-17-1315(a)(1) prohibits the sheriff from placing restrictions on when or where a deputy may carry his or her service handgun. See also Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. No. 99-024 (February 16, 1999).
POST-certified deputy sheriffs may carry firearms at all times and in all places within Tennessee, on-duty or off-duty, regardless of the deputy’s regular duty hours or assignments except as provided by T.C.A. § 39-17-1350(c), federal law, lawful orders of court or the written directive of the sheriff. T.C.A. § 39-17-1350(a) and (d). (Note: Reserve, auxiliary, part-time and temporary deputy sheriffs may carry a weapon only when they are on-duty.)
The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) is a United States federal law, enacted in 2004, that allows two classes of persons—the “qualified law enforcement officer” and the “qualified retired law enforcement officer” — to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction in the United States, regardless of any state or local law to the contrary, with certain exceptions.
A deputy sheriff may be deemed a full-time police officer under the laws pertaining to peace officers. “Full-time police officer” means any person employed by any municipality or political subdivision of the state of Tennessee whose primary responsibility is to prevent and detect crime and to apprehend offenders, and whose primary source of income is derived from employment as a police officer. T.C.A. § 38-8-101(1). See Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. No. 85-224 (July 30, 1985).
After July 1, 1981, any person employed as a full-time deputy sheriff shall:
(1) Be at least 18 years of age;
(2) Be a citizen of the United States;
(3) Be a high school graduate or possess its equivalency which shall include a general educational development (GED) certificate;
(4) Not have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to or entered a plea of nolo contendere to any felony charge or to any violation of any federal or state laws or city ordinances relating to force , violence, theft, dishonesty, gambling, liquor or controlled substances;
(5) Not have been released or discharged under any other than honorable discharge from any of the armed forces of the United States;
(6) Have their fingerprints on file with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation;
(7) Have passed a physical examination by a licensed physician;
(8) Have a good moral character as determined by a thorough investigation conducted by the employing agency; and
(9) Be free of all apparent mental disorders as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition (DSM-III) of the American Psychiatric Association. An applicant must be certified as meeting these criteria by a qualified professional in the psychiatric or psychological field.
T.C.A. § 38-8-106. See also Rules of the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, Rule 1110-2-.03 (1).
OATHS OF OFFICE
Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs are required to take an oath of office that actually consists of two oaths: the constitutional oath and an oath for the office of sheriff (Tenn. Const. Art. X, Sec. 1).
Sheriffs take the following oath according to T.C.A. § 8-8-104:
I do solemnly swear that I will perform with fidelity the duties of the office to which I have been elected, and which I am about to assume. I do solemnly swear to support the constitutions of Tennessee and the United States and to faithfully perform the duties of the office of sheriff for County, Tennessee. I further swear that I have not promised or given, nor will l I give any fee, gift, gratuity, or reward for this office or for aid in procuring this office; that I will not take any fee, gift, or bribe, or gratuity for returning any person as a juror o r for making any false return of any process and that I will faithfully execute the office of sheriff to the best of my knowledge and a bility, agreeably to law.
Deputy sheriffs take an oath similar to the sheriff (according to T.C.A. § 8-18-112) as follows:
I do solemnly swear that I will perform with fidelity the duties of the office to which I have been appointed, and which I am about to assume. I do solemnly swear to support the constitutions of Tennessee and the United States and to faithfully perform the duties of the office of deputy sheriff for County , Tennessee. I further swear that I have not promised or given, nor will I give any fee, gift, gratuity, or reward for this office or for aid in procuring this office; that I will not take any fee, gift, or bribe, or gratuity for returning any person as a juror or for making any false return of any process and that I will faithfully execute the office of deputy sheriff to the best of my knowledge and a bility, agreeably to law.