What is a US Marshal?

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  • Written By: Brenda Scott
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 August 2018
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The US Marshals Service (USMS) is the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the United States. Founded by Congress in 1789 as a part of the First Judicial Act, it operates as the law enforcement branch of the judiciary. The agency is based in Washington, DC, and has 94 district offices — one for each federal judicial district — 218 sub-offices, and three foreign offices. Each district office is managed by a US marshal who receives his job through presidential appointment. Any other law enforcement agent or investigator working in these offices is called a deputy US marshal.

Some of the primary responsibilities of the marshals include conducting federal fugitive investigations, protecting the federal judiciary, operating the federal witness security program, and transporting federal prisoners. In 1984, legislation passed creating the criminal asset forfeiture program authorizing the seizure and sale of assets acquired by convicted felons through illegal means. The proceeds are distributed to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The USMS was placed in charge of the seizure, management, sale and distribution of these assets.

The US marshal judicial protection activities are intended to provide safety to federal courts, judges, juries and other judicial personnel. Marshals are also responsible for providing protection to US Supreme Court justices and the deputy attorney general when they travel outside the Washington, DC area. Judicial protection is divided between three program areas: Judicial Services, Judicial Operations, and the National Center for Judicial Security.


The Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS) was created through a merger of the agency and Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) air fleets, and placed under the direction of the USMS. This is one of the largest prisoner transportation systems in the world. JPATS is the only federally owned passenger airline, and it is used to transport sentenced federal and ICE prisoners between courts and facilities and to deport illegal aliens. It is also used by military and civilian law enforcement agencies at a lower cost, and with greater security, than could be provided by a commercial airline.

The US marshals are also responsible for the apprehension of foreign fugitives in the US, and for locating and extraditing American fugitives who have fled to foreign countries. To assist in this, the agency has offices in Jamaica, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Marshals also participate in border liaison programs with Mexico and Canada, and hold key positions at Interpol. In 2008, the agency conducted over 850 deportations and extraditions from 60 countries.

While a US marshal has federal jurisdiction, the department leads over 80 regional task forces with other federal, local and state law enforcement agencies, sharing expertise and resources. In addition to the regional task forces, several permanent fugitive task force groups were set up in response to the Presidential Threat Protection Act of 2000. Unlike the regional groups, these are staffed with full-time local, state and federal law enforcement personnel. They serve as an information sharing center for fugitive issues, and are responsible for apprehending the most dangerous fugitives.


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