“Foundations” is a monthly series examining the fundamentals of local government, talking about how government works and how it impacts people’s lives at the local level. This week, …
“Foundations” is a monthly series examining the fundamentals of local government, talking about how government works and how it impacts people’s lives at the local level. This week, “Foundations” explores the structure of Sullivan County’s cops and courts.
Sullivan County has a small handful of law enforcement agencies dedicated to its protection, from the local to the state level.
Who answers the call when an emergency gets reported? It’s often the closest car, said Sullivan County Undersheriff Eric Chaboty.
Four municipalities in the county have local police departments (see sidebar for a full list). These police departments have primary agency status in their respective jurisdictions: if they’re available, they’ll be the first to respond.
Several municipalities have constable forces, but they’re more limited than police departments would be, said Chaboty. Constables are peace officers, not police officers: they can answer calls, but they can’t conduct duties such as stop / question / frisk.
Emergencies outside the towns and villages with police departments get assigned based on the closest-car concept. Callers may get a state trooper that responds, or they may get a sheriff’s deputy, depending on who can respond more quickly.
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office has some duties it carries out independently of the area’s other law enforcement agencies.
Besides the patrol division (which responds to emergency calls), the sheriff’s office includes a civil division and a jail division.
The civil division facilitates the civil process of the county’s courts. Officers with the civil division conduct evictions, enforce civil arrest warrants and collect fees. The jail division—as the name suggests—maintains security at the Sullivan County jail.
The jail holds people who are waiting for trial or some other action of the court. Around 75 percent of the jail’s population falls into that category, said Chaboty.
If someone gets convicted of a crime and their sentence is under a year, they serve that sentence at the Sullivan County jail, he said. If they have to serve over a year, they get transported to a state prison after waiting in Sullivan County’s jail for a state prison bed to become available.
The sheriff’s office also provides security to county buildings, such as the government center.
The partners to Sullivan County’s law enforcement agencies are the courts, where the laws are laid down.
Sullivan County has a variety of court bodies, each with their own responsibilities.
The information in this section comes primarily from “New York State Courts: An Introductory Guide,” available at nycourts.gov/courthelp/GoingToCourt/courtSystem.shtml.
The lowest level of courts is the town and village justice courts. Each of Sullivan County’s towns has its own justice court, presided over by justices elected to four-year terms. These courts handle misdemeanors and lesser offenses, as well as civil suits up to $3,000 in value.
Above them are the county courts and the supreme courts: each county has one of each. The county courts try felony cases and criminal cases, can hear the same kinds of cases heard in town and village courts, and have limited authority over cases with claims up to $25,000. Supreme courts hear civil cases, including high-dollar-amount claims cases and divorce proceedings.
Three other courts—the family court, the surrogate’s court and the court of claims—hear more specialized cases. The family court hears matters involving family and children; the surrogate’s court, deceased individuals; the court of claims, money damages against the state.
The appellate courts sit above them all; appeals go first to the intermediate appellate courts, and wind up in the end at the court of appeals, the highest court in New York.
Separate from the court system are the county-appointed defense and prosecution attorneys.
The district attorney’s office prosecutes and investigates criminal offenses in Sullivan County. The office also helps with investigations and arrests, particularly those related to the opioid crisis: district attorney Meagan Galligan co-chairs the Sullivan County Drug Task Force.
On the other side of the courtroom, Sullivan County has contracts with two agencies that provide public defense services: the Sullivan County Conflict Legal Aid Bureau and the Sullivan Legal Aid Panel. Through these agencies, the county offers representation for defendants without the finances to hire their own lawyers.
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