Sheriffs in Georgia are one of only four county-level officers that derive their powers of office through the Georgia constitution. The others are superior court clerk, probate judge and tax commissioner. County commissioners are mentioned in the constitution and vested with certain powers, but they also are answerable to county governing authorities, such as the very commission on which they sit. Georgia sheriffs must meet established state qualification criteria that are contained within the constitution or state law.
Education & Experience
The only state educational requirement for becoming a sheriff in Georgia is to possess a high school diploma or an equivalent education standard as recognized by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, commonly referred to as POST. This requirement is contained in Chapter 8, Title 35 of the Official Code of Georgia, Annotated. POST is the state-created oversight organization that establishes and enforces training guidelines for Georgia law-enforcement officers and which derives its powers from the same Chapter 8, Title 35 1970 legislation. Code Section 35-8-10 also states that a sheriff must be a registered or certified peace officer, or that, upon assuming the office of sheriff, he satisfy peace-officer requirements established by POST. The sheriff must also pass a written exam.
State Sheriff Qualification Laws
Aside from educational and experience requirements, a Georgia sheriff must be at least 18 years old and must be a citizen of the United States. He also must not have been convicted of any crime for which he could have been imprisoned, nor have been convicted of enough misdemeanors to signify a pattern of disregard for the law, not including traffic violations. He must provide fingerprints so that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation can conduct a criminal background check, and he must possess “good moral character.” He must provide written residence and employment histories. An oral interview with the county governing body must be completed and he must subject himself to a physical examination.
State Election Laws
Article IX, Section I of the Georgia constitution states that sheriffs "shall be elected by the qualified voters of their respective counties for a term of four years and shall have such qualifications, powers and duties as provided by general law." The constitution does not place limits on the number of terms a sheriff may serve, specifying only that a sheriff who reaches 75 years of age and has served 45 years or more automatically is recognized as the holder of the honorary office of sheriff emeritus of the state of Georgia.
Georgia has 159 counties, 147 of which have full-service, independent sheriff’s offices and 12 of which have some form of county police department answerable to county officials. Sheriffs are the chief law enforcement officers in their respective counties. They are not subservient to county political or legislative authority, deriving their powers from the Georgia Constitution, and the employees who work for the sheriff do so at his sole discretion. Sheriffs operate jails, provide court security, serve civil papers and execute arrest warrants. They provide the primary law-enforcement duties within the unincorporated areas of a county and may contract with towns or other municipalities to provide law-enforcement services within incorporated areas. Sheriffs have statewide law-enforcement and pursuit jurisdiction.