There are many federal law enforcement agencies, the oldest of which is the United States Marshals Service; with so many in the news and in popular culture, the question might well be asked, “What does a US Marshal do?” The short answer to that question is “a lot,” while a more detailed answer can be taken from the US Marshals Service webpage. Broadly, the duties of a US Marshal range to ensuring judicial security, pursuing fugitives, handling forfeited assets, handling prisoners and ensuring witness security.
Ensuring Judicial Security
The US Marshals have had the task of protecting federal courts and enforcing their determinations since 1789. Current Marshals and their deputies maintain security at federal court buildings, provide bailiffs for individual courtrooms and investigate and pursue threats to the officers of the federal court system. The same division of the service that protects the judiciary also oversees the functions of the service as a whole, handling payroll and personnel concerns.
One of the best known of the Marshals’ duties, made famous by such films as The Fugitive, is pursuing federal fugitives. In addition to maintaining a “Most Wanted” list, the Marshals coordinate with state, local and even international law enforcement offices to track and apprehend those who will seek to escape justice in the US. Often, they will oversee other law enforcement agencies, offering them extra-jurisdictional authority to aid in their pursuit of fugitives.
Handling Forfeited Assets
One of the lesser known duties of the Marshals is the disposal of assets forfeited to all of the law enforcement agencies under the US Department of Justice. The criminals pursued by law enforcement are often stripped of their ill-gotten monies and possessions; the Marshals ensure that what can be restored to its rightful owners is and that what cannot be restored is sold and the proceeds therefrom distributed equitably to victims, communities and agencies.
The US Marshals also handle federal prisoners, both between arrest and acquittal or incarceration in Bureau of Prisons facilities and in transporting those imprisoned to hearings, court appearances and other carceral facilities. They also assist other law enforcement agencies in prisoner transport. Notably, all federal prisoners prior to conviction are held by the Marshals Service; the arresting agency is irrelevant. Notably also, the Marshals do not themselves maintain prison facilities, relying instead on the efforts of other agencies to provide secure places in which to hold those accused of breaking the law.
Ensuring Witness Security
Another of the most famous duties of the US Marshals Service is that of maintaining the Witness Security Program. In the nearly 45 years of its existence, the program has ensured that over 8,500 witnesses have been kept safe from harm as they have provided the testimony necessary to convict some of the most heinous criminals of the time. In addition, the program has protected nearly 10,000 others, family members of the witnesses themselves, so that they could not be threatened as a way to stifle testimony against wrongdoers. It is a duty that deserves as much praise as it has received.
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Since its creation by the first US Congress, the Marshals service has been a key component in the maintenance of law and order in the nation. Hopefully, the above information will ensure that fewer people need to ask “What does a US Marshal do?”