About the United States Marshals Service

The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) is the oldest federal law enforcement agency and serves as the enforcement arm of the federal courts. Established in 1789, the USMS has performed a myriad of enforcement duties throughout the years including clandestine missions, border security, monitoring enemy aliens during wartime and regional policing. In modern times, U.S. marshals have fulfilled the following responsibilities:

  • Apprehension of wanted fugitives
  • Transport of federal prisoners
  • Protection of threatened federal witnesses through the Witness Security Program
  • Protection of federal judges
  • Seizure of assets from criminals
  • Service of writs, processes and orders

In addition to these explicit duties, U.S. marshals also possess a power that is a holdover from years past: the ability to deputize civilians. If a U.S. marshal, in the course of performing their duties, requires the assistance of civilians, they may deputize them to act as law enforcement officers. Finally, U.S. marshals also may act in a role similar to a local sheriff. They may enforce local and federal laws as well as pursue and apprehend anyone suspected of committing a crime.

The current director of the U.S. Marshal Service, which is a bureau within the U.S. Department of Justice, is Stacia A. Hylton, and the acting deputy director is James Thompson. This major law enforcement agency has a total of 5,431 employees and an annual budge of almost $1.2 billion. The U.S. Marshal Service is comprised of 94 U.S. marshals, one for each of the 94 federal judicial districts. These marshals are supported by the 3,829 Deputy U.S. Marshals who perform the majority of the investigative and protection duties assigned to the agency. The agency oversees the security of 440 federal judiciary locations, 2,200 judges, and 10,000 judiciary employees around the country. There are also 218 sub-offices in the United States, as well as three foreign offices.

One of the most highly publicized roles of the U.S. Marshal Service is to investigate and apprehend fugitives. The U.S. Marshal Service typically identifies, locates and arrests 302 fugitives every day. In 2013, the USMS arrested 110,252 fugitives. These operations are often conducted in cooperation with local, state and federal law enforcement personnel under the command of U.S. Marshal Service task forces. While serving with these task forces, local and state law enforcement officers are deputized as temporary Deputy U.S. Marshals, which allows them to operate outside of their normal jurisdictions.

The U.S. Marshal Service is responsible for maintaining the safety of federal witnesses through the Witness Security Program. This program safeguards the wellbeing of witnesses and their families prior to and following their court testimony. The USMS also provides new documents and identities for these witnesses and their families so that they may disappear from public view. Since the creation of the program, almost 18,400 participants have entered the Witness Security Program.

The U.S. Marshal Service also oversees the seizure of major property and assets of criminal offenders. In September 2013, the USMS had operational control of almost 22,500 assets valued at almost $2 billion. The agency is also responsible for disbursing restitution and rewards to victims and claimants. In 2013, almost $200 million was distributed by the U.S. Marshal Service.

The final major responsibility of the U.S. Marshal Service is to manage federal prisoners in a variety of functions like fugitive detention and transport of defendants to and from court. In 2013, the average number of prisoners in the custody of the USMS was almost 60,000. The majority of these were held in local and state facilities, but a sizable portion were detained in federal and private prisons.

History of the U.S. Marshal Service

The U.S. Marshal Service was founded on September 24, 1789 by the Judiciary Act. Originally the USMS was to serve as officers of the federal courts and execute warrants. In pursuit of their duties, U.S. marshals often served as local law enforcement officials especially in the West. There they enforced local and federal laws, often deputizing local citizens to serve in posses to pursue and apprehend wanted fugitives. They also performed duties for the courts like renting courtrooms and jail space, transporting defendants to court and organizing witnesses.

In the early years of the country’s history, the U.S. marshals were the only federal enforcement officers available to the President throughout the country. Thus the U.S. Marshal Service performed a wide variety of functions including conducting the census, issuing presidential proclamations and many other routine federal functions.

In the modern era, the U.S. Marshal Service has performed duties including the exchange of spies with the Soviet Union, the enforcement of Prohibition, protection of American athletes at the Olympics and securing facilities and events during the civil rights movement. In fact, the U.S. marshals have had a ubiquitous presence throughout American history, and have been present at many of the nation’s most important events.

In 1956, the modern U.S. Marshal Service was established as the Executive Office of U.S. Marshals. Since then the USMS has spearheaded a number of operations and initiatives including the establishment of the Witness Security Program in 1970. In 1971, the USMS founded the Special Operations Group which was a tactical unit composed of Deputy U.S. Marshals which could be deployed almost anywhere in the U.S. within hours of activation.

Since the turn of the 21st century and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the U.S. Marshal Service has intensified its operations to track down and apprehend fugitives who may possess knowledge of criminal or terrorist activities. Among the most successful of these operations include Operation Falcon, which led to the arrest of more than 10,300 fugitives in 2005, and almost 55,800 fugitives by 2008.

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USMS Jurisdiction & Investigative Priorities