Rather than being another "good ol'boy" Southern sherriff, Heck Tate is a down-to-earth, practical, decent man who represents common sense. In two instances, he displays this good sense:
- When the rabid dog Tim Johnson staggers down the street, Sherriff Tate realizes that there is only one opportunity in which to get a good shot off, so he tells Atticus, whom he knows is very accurate, to take the shot.
- Having realized that Bob Ewell and his daughter Mayella have perjured themselves at the trial of Tom Robinson, Tate perceives Ewell's death as part of the law of retribution, "a service" to Maycomb; therefore, he sees no need to involve Boo Radley in any inquest. He argues with Atticus, but finally convinces him that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife and died as a result of his action. Even though Atticus is rather suspicious of the switchblade which Tate contends he took from a drunken man downtown, Tate insists that Ewell fell on the kitchen knife.
- Sherriff Tate has the common sense to save Boo Radley the shame of a hearing for the shy Boo Radley.
To my way of thinkin', Mr. Finch, taking the one man who's done you and this town a great service an'draggin' him with his shy ways nto the limelight--to me, that's a sin. It's a sin and i'm not about to have it on my head....
Afterterwards, Scout underscores what Sherriff Tate has said by telling her father that incarcerating Boo would be like shooting a mockingbird.