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The word "marshal" is derived from the old High German words "marah" , a horse, and "scalh", a servant; hence, "marahscalh", a man appointed to take care of horses – a farrier, or groom. This, then, is the reason that in England during the reign of the Normans and Plantagenets, the counterpart of the present-day marshal was called "Marshal of the King’s Horses". He wore livery, or uniform, in keeping with the office and had the right to summon people within a twelve-mile limit of his station. In fact, until the creation of the King’s "Bench" (Court) during the reign of Edward the First, the marshal had the duty to physically escort into court witnesses and others whose presence was desired in order for the court to acquire the proper "jurisdiction". Ultimately, however, the service of summons was considered as placing a defendant in custody, and it was no longer necessary that the marshal physically bring desired parties before the court.

During the Seventeenth Century, Americans knew well officers called "marshal of the colony", "marshal general" or "provost marshal"; and there had been deputy marshals and marshals for counties or judicial "ridings".

Both the office of U.S. Marshal and the original court system for the United States were created by the 22nd Act of the First Congress, known as the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789. When Congress enacted this Act, only 11 states had been admitted to the Union. The Act established a judicial district and the office of marshal for each of the 11 states. Pursuant to the creation of these districts, President Washington and the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment of marshals to represent each district therein. With the above background, it is sufficient to add that as the United States grew to its present 50 states, new judicial districts and office of marshals were established by acts of Congress so that there are 93 judicial districts, including at least one marshal in each state, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Canal Zone, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Twenty-five states have more than one marshal, varying in number from two to four, depending on the judicial districts therein,

In addition to creating the office of marshal, this 22nd Act of the First Congress gave each marshal two specific duties – first, to attend the district and circuit court and also the Supreme Court when sitting in his district; and second, to execute throughout his district all lawful precepts directed to him under the authority of the United States. He was also empowered to command all necessary assistance in the execution of his duties and to appoint one or more deputies as needed. The marshal was appointed by the President for a term of four years.

In the years following 1789, congress began to impose upon the marshal such a variety of assignments that they became the handymen of federal administration. They were directed to take the census, to hire and supervise jailers for federal prisons, to received and execute precepts from French consul and vice consul and to execute court martials. Later, marshals were given custody of all vessels and goods seized by revenue officers and became responsible for summoning appraisers to value goods taken in execution of judgment. They became fiscal agents of the court and agents of the comptroller in serving notice upon delinquent officers accountable, as well as many other varied duties.

Not only was the early marshal required to perform a vast number of duties, he was accountable for the performance of those duties to a number of superiors. He reported to the responsible court for which he was really an administrative officer, to the Secretary of the Treasury and to the Secretary of the Interior. Additionally, he was required to report certain taxes of suits to the Solicitor of the Treasury and to furnish statements on prize vessels and cargos to the Secretary of the Navy.

In 1861, the Attorney General was given supervisory powers over marshals, and those powers were reaffirmed in the statute of June 22, 1870, which created the Department of Justice.

In addition to a diversity of duties and superiors, which necessarily resulted in an administrative burden for his office, the early U.S. Marshal was constantly subject to the hazards resulting from the lawlessness that characterized the frontier west and other pioneer communities. It has been said that the marshal as a peace officer led a life that was full of novelty, spiced with danger and flavored with adventure. Needless to say, it was often difficult to obtain marshals and deputies because of the danger involved and because of an ever-present hostility in U.S. Courts.

For the sake of brevity and simplicity, the present duties of the U.S. Marshal may be classified broadly as follows: (1) Attendance upon the court in preserving order in the courtroom. (2) Serving of process. (3) Transportation and commitment of prisoners. (4) Serves as disbursing officer. In somewhat abbreviated form, these duties are individually described below: Under heading (1), the U.S. Marshal or his deputies may be required to attend upon the sessions of court as a preserver of the peace within the courtroom and to execute forthwith process or perform such other duties within the courtroom as the Judge may direct, which includes the maintenance of order and decorum therein, protection of the Judge, custodial charge of sequestered jurors and witnesses, and many varied duties in connection with the court’s function.

The serving of process involves more than the mere handling of a subpoena or summons to the individual or persons named therein. It can be and often is an accumulation of complexities involving carrying out the court’s order in protecting property and/or individuals, restraining individuals and communities from lawlessness and many involved functions in connections therewith. It included the seizure of goods and chattels, vessels, the storage of seized articles, the sale of property, publication of notices, and often even the actual operation of businesses, the management of their personnel, collection of rents and all related necessities required of a business operation. In the execution of criminal process, it involves the arrest of individuals, the search and seizure of persons and property, the enforcement of the court’s contempt orders, etc.

In the execution of process, the marshal is required to execute all precepts emanating from the federal courts, which, of course, involve governmental agencies, private litigants, corporations, individual, and any citizen seeking his day in court.

One of the more interesting types of process we execute involves the seizure, custody, release or destruction of articles, commodities, products, etc, found to be sub-standard and below requirements prescribed by the Food & Drug Administration. Were it not for the diligence pursued by the inspectors and agents of this facility, the unsuspecting public would be subject to many unsanitary, contaminated and dangerous situations because of a sub-standard product. The manufacturer of said articles, when same have been seized by the marshal, must either post a bond to bring the article into compliance with the law, or permit its forfeiture condemnation and destruction.

In the seizure of vessels, often it is required that perishable cargo be cared for, and even the Captain and crew.

Transportation and commitment of prisoners - By law, the Attorney General is charged with the care and custody of persons arrested for crime, as well as those convicted. He operates through the U.S. marshal, who make the arrests and place the prisoners in jail, During the course of trial, the marshals handle prisoners between jails, and courtrooms, supervise the custody and care of prisoners in jails, contract jails; and if a prisoner is given a term of confinement, the marshal transports him to a penitentiary, reformatory, correctional institution, etc. This is one of the major functions of the marshal’s office, as it is a duty and responsibility with which the marshal and marshal alone is charged. Often, one reads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation arresting a bank robber, or the U.S. Secret Service arresting one who has threatened the President’s life and/or agents arresting other individuals for other offenses. The moment any such individual is arrested for any federal offense, he immediately is placed in custody of the U.S. Marshal, who has the sole responsibility for carrying out the functions herein mentioned. Last year some 57, 000 prisoners were committed to various federal penal institutions by the U.S. Marshals Service. In addition, the U.S. Marshal Service handled 203,400 prisoners to and from jails, courts and institutions. All of this was accomplished by a force of less than 600 male personnel, comprising the 93 judicial districts.

The transportation of prisoners is accomplished by common carrier or by personally owned automobiles. In transporting prisoners, the marshal or his deputies is accompanied by a fellow officer or a guard, or several of them, as the prisoner commitment may require. The officer in charge of the party is responsible for the safe delivery of the prisoner to his destination, and any negligence in the handling of prisoners may result in suspension of the marshal and deputy involved; or , if there is an escape, even prosecution under the Escape Act, resulting in fine and imprisonment. Obviously, the marshal exercises diligence and perseverance in protecting and handling prisoners.

As disbursing officer for the Department of Justice and U.S. Courts, the marshal pays the official salaries of Department of Justice and U.S. Court personnel, witness and juror fees, the varied and many expenses in connection with the operation of the Courts and Justice offices – lights, gas and water, so to speak. They also withhold income taxes for the Federal government and the state and account for the various payroll deductions, which include retirement, Social Security, life insurance, health insurance and savings bonds. Additionally, they are required to deposit and disburse funds in connection with private litigants for cases and businesses.

The U.S. Marshal and his deputies have statutory authority to carry firearms and to make arrests without warrant for any offense against the law of the United States committed in their presence or for any felony cognizable under the law of the United States if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing such felony. A marshal and his deputies, in executing the laws of the United States within a state may exercise the same powers which a sheriff of such state may exercise in executing the laws of the state.

While it is true that the U.S. Marshal was the original law enforcement officer in the federal system and many territorial marshals performed heroic deeds in their unceasing efforts to enforce the law, the present-day radio and television programs characterizing the frontier marshal should not be construed as illustrative of the duties and hazards which confront the U.S. Marshals today. Many of the investigative and special functions formerly performed by marshals have become the present ane exclusive prerogative of other federal investigative agencies. As to the duties that are presently exercised and enumerated herein, the U.S. Marshal, like most other public servants, conducts his office with minimum of publicity therewith; and as a link in our federal system, he is able to provide a maximum effort in the process of law enforcement and the various duties and functions as the administrative officer for the court.