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What does a Marshal do?

By Erin Oxendine
Updated May 17, 2024
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United States Marshals and Deputy Marshals are men and women with extensive training and skills including defensive tactics and firearms, weapons, and intelligence training. Federal Marshals make up one of the oldest law enforcement programs in the country. In the United States, a Marshal assists the Federal government by performing a variety of tasks ranging from security for judges to transporting prisoners.

One of the tasks a U.S. Marshal performs is assisting witnesses in the Witness Security Program. This program protects witnesses who are waiting to testify at trial or may have already testified against individuals involved in criminal activities or terrorist crimes. Marshals also provide security for court personnel and judges in high-profile cases such as Mafia trials and espionage cases. Marshals also help to get witnesses in protective custody set up in new locations where the witnesses and their families have been given new identities.

Another job U.S. Marshals do is track and apprehend fugitives who are on the run. Marshals hunt down fugitives in the U.S. as well as extradite fugitives hiding in other countries so they can be brought back for a trial in the U.S. Local and Federal law enforcement also enlist help from Marshals when serving warrants on dangerous criminals in the U.S.

In 1995, the U.S. Marshal Service created what is now one of the largest prisoner transport systems in the world, which operates under a collective effort with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The prisoner transport system, known as Justice Prisoner and Alien Transport System (JPATS) moves prisoners and criminal aliens between law enforcement agencies, prisoner faculties and foreign countries by land and air.

Marshals perform other duties such as seizing property from individuals who purchased the property with funds from criminal activities. Marshals work with the U.S. Attorneys Offices and other agencies to identify and inventory the merchandise and property. The funds from the sale of the property go towards helping different law enforcement agencies with crime prevention programs.

Individuals who are considering a job with the U.S. Marshal Service should have a four-year degree, three years of relevant experience or a combination of education and experience. Candidates will also have to meet specific physical requirements as well as pass extensive background investigations. Candidates for the program must also complete training at the U.S. Marshals Service Training Academy. People who pass the exams and training start out as Deputy Marshals and are on a two-year probationary period.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By TreeMan — On Aug 14, 2011

Being hired as a United States Marshal is a major deal. This is one of the most trusted and oldest areas in federal law enforcement in the United States and they do not just let anyone in. I have heard that out of the thousands of applications they receive every year only a few new recruits are selected to even participate in the training with no guarantee that they will ever become Marshals.

Considering the importance of the jobs they do, providing protection for witnesses and judges in the most dangerous of court cases, they already have a major responsibility that is only for them, not other government agencies. Going with that, Air Marshals have an even bigger responsibility because they are responsible for the safety of everyone on the plane not just one person

By titans62 — On Aug 14, 2011

@stl156 - In order to become a Marshal in the first place extensive training as well as background checks are needed. Considering that a Marshal is a federal position in law enforcement, it is already a difficult position to obtain. Becoming an Air Marshal is an even harder position to obtain due to one simple requirement.

In order to become an Air Marshal an candidate must pass their weapons test. Because of the dangers of shooting a gun in the confines of an airplane the Marshal must be a crack shot and be able to completely incapacitate the individual on the first shot, should the situation call for it. Many Marshals who apply to become Air Marshals are turned down simply because they cannot pass the weapons test.

By stl156 — On Aug 13, 2011

@cardsfan27 - Air Marshals are simply an extended branch of the United States Marshals. However, in order to become an Air Marshal it requires much more extensive training and background checks. Although all United States Marshals have extensive background checks well before being officially accepted into training many will be denied becoming Air Marshals because they may not be able to fulfill a requirement needed to keep order within the confines of an airplane.

By cardsfan27 — On Aug 12, 2011

Are Air Marshals different from regular Marshals? I've always been under the impression that Air Marshals are separate government agency than regular Marshals and that their training is quite different. Since air safety has become such a concern in the last ten years and reading this article I now wonder whether or not Air Marshals operate as their own agency or if they are just another branch.

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