The duties of the office of Sheriff are quite varied. The sheriff has the important duty to prevent crimes, investigate criminal conduct that has occurred, and arrest criminals. Sheriffs and their deputies must be thoroughly acquainted with the Tennessee criminal code. The sheriff should develop a good working relationship with the staff of the district attorney general’s office. Sheriffs also serve as jailers and many serve as superintendent of the county workhouse, which in some counties, the jail is also the workhouse.
County jails are responsible for the housing of misdemeanant prisoners. Many county jails also house state prisoners, such as persons convicted of felony offenses, due to lack of space in state prison facilities. The sheriffs in these counties perform important functions in obtaining state reimbursement for expenses associated with housing state prisoners. Related to criminal casework, are duties requiring the sheriff to dispose of contraband, abandoned motor vehicles, and unlawful weapons.
Sheriffs also have many duties that are civil in nature. They include the duty to execute and return, according to law, the civil process and orders of the courts of record and general sessions courts. Sheriffs and their deputies serve subpoenas, execute writs of possession, levy writs of execution, which involve taking property to satisfy judgments, serve garnishments, and serve orders of protection.
Each of these civil duties, as well as many others, have specific requirements, time requirements, and duties with which the sheriff and deputy sheriffs must be familiar.
Additionally, the sheriff, or an officer designated by the sheriff, must attend all courts held in the county. This is generally when a deputy sheriff acts as court officer or bailiff. Sheriffs and their deputies operate under strict legal standards and must strive to perform their duties correctly.
For example, failure to respect the civil rights of citizens, including prisoners, can result in personal liability. The actions of sheriffs and deputies often serve as the basis of lawsuits initiated by persons displeased with what has happened to them.
Sheriffs must be acquainted with the civil and criminal aspects of the federal civil rights laws, the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act and numerous other laws.