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A federal court officer whose job entails maintaining the peace, delivering legal papers, and performing duties similar to those of a state sheriff.

The term marshal originated in Old English Law, where it was used to describe a variety of law enforcement officers with responsibilities to the courts and the king or queen. In contemporary U.S. law, it refers primarily to the chief law officers for the federal courts (28 U.S.C.A. §§ 561 et seq.). U.S. marshals execute federal laws within the states under the instructions of the courts. Their chief duty is to enforce legal orders; they have no independent authority to question whether a judge is right or wrong. Their responsibilities include delivering writs and processes and carrying out other orders, which range from making arrests to holding property in the custody of the court. Marshals may exercise the same powers as a state sheriff.

The chain of command for U.S. marshals begins in the White House. The president appoints to a four-year term one marshal for each judicial district. Each appointment is subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Once an appointment is confirmed, the president retains the power to remove the marshal at any time. In the Justice Department, the U.S. attorney general designates where each marshal's office is located. Each marshal appoints her or his own deputies and staff, with salaries based on schedules in federal law.

At the state and local levels, the term marshal is also used to describe police officers whose job is similar to that of a constable or sheriff. It can also denote the head of a city police or fire department.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1) n. a federal court official who may serve papers and act as a law enforcement officer in keeping order in court, protecting federal officials, making arrests, or participating in court-ordered police activities. Each district court has a Federal Marshal and a corps of deputies. 2) in several states, a law enforcement officer, similar to a sheriff or constable, who serves official documents and occasionally assists in police matters. 3) v. to collect the assets of the estate of a person who has died. This is a function of an executor or administrator of an estate. Sometimes the executor or administrator may ask the court to allow the sale or division of gifts in order to achieve the distribution the testator (writer of a will) desired. This is part of the marshaling process. 4) in bankruptcy, to establish priorities among creditors.

(See: probate, bankruptcy)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

MARSHAL. An officer of the United States, whose duty it is to execute the process of the courts of the United States. His duties are very similar to those of a sheriff.
     2. It is enacted by the act to establish the judicial courts of the United States, 1 Story's L. U. S. 53, as follows:
     Sec. 27. That a marshal shall be appointed, in and for each district, for the term of four years, but shall be removable from office at pleasure whose duty it shall be to attend the district and circuit courts, when sitting therein, and also the supreme court in the district in which that court shall sit: and to execute throughout the district, all lawful precepts directed to him, and issued under the authority of the United States, and he shall have power to command all necessary assistance in the execution of his duty, and to appoint, as there shall be occasion, one or more deputies, who shall be removable from office by the judge of the district court, or the circuit court sitting within the district, at the pleasure of either. And before he enters on the duties of his office, he shall become bound for the faithful performance of the same, by himself and by his deputies, before the judge of the district court, to the United States jointly and severally, with two good and sufficient sureties, inhabitants and freeholders of such district, to be approved by the district judge, in the sum of twenty thousand dollars, and shall take before said judge, as shall also his deputies, before they enter on the duties of their appointment, the following oath of office: "I, A B, do solemnly swear or affirm, that I will faithfully execute all lawful precepts directed to the marshal of the district of________under the authority of the United States, and true returns make; and in all things well and truly, and without malice or partiality, perform the duties of the office of marshal (or marshal's deputy, as the case may be) of the district of _________ during my continuance in said office, and take only my lawful fees. So help me God."
     3.-Sec. 28. That in all causes wherein the marshal, or his deputy, shall be a party, the writs and precepts therein shall be directed to such disinterested person, as the court, or any justice or judge thereof may appoint, and the person so appointed is hereby authorized to execute and return the same. And in case of the death of any marshal, his deputy or deputies, shall continue in office unless otherwise specially removed; and shall execute the same in the name of the deceased, until another marshal shall be appointed and sworn: And the defaults, or misfeasances in office of such deputy or deputies in the mean time, as well as before, shall be adjudged a breach of the condition of the bond given, as before directed, by the marshal who appointed them; and the executor or administrator of the deceased marshal, shall have like remedy for the defaults and misfeasances in office of such deputy or deputies during such interval, as they would be entitled to if the marshal had continued in life, and in the exercise of his said office, until his successor was appointed, and sworn or affirmed: And every marshal, or his deputy, when removed from office, or when the term for which the marshal is appointed shall expire, shall have power, notwithstanding, to execute all such precepts as may be in their hands, respectively, at the time of such removal or expiration of office; and the marshal shall be held answerable for the delivery to his successors of all prisoners which may be in his custody at the time of his removal, or when the term for which he is appointed shall expire, and for that purpose may retain such prisoners in his custody, until his successor shall be appointed, and qualified as the law directs.
     4. By the act making certain alterations in the act for establishing the judicial courts, &c. passed June 9, 1794, 1 Story's L. U. S. 865, it is enacted,
     Sec. 7. That so much of the act to establish the judicial courts of the United States, as is, or may be, construed to require the attendance of the marshals of all the districts at the supreme court, shall be, and the same is hereby repealed: And that the said court shall be attended, during its session, by the marshal of the district only, in which the court shall sit, unless the attendance of the marshals of other districts shall be required by special order of the said court.
     5. The act of February 28, 1795, 1 Story's L. U. S. 391, directs,
     Sec. 9. That the marshals of the several districts, and their deputies, shall have the same powers, in executing the laws of the United States, as sheriffs and their deputies, in the several states, have by law in executing the laws of the respective states.
     6. There are various other legislative provisions in relation to the duties and rights of marshals, which are here briefly noticed with reference to the laws themselves.
     7.-1. The act of May 8, 1792, s. 4, provides for the payment of expenses incurred by the marshal in holding the courts of the United States, the payment of jurors, witnesses, &c.
     8.-2. The act of April 16, 1817, prescribes the duties of the marshal in relation to the proceeds of prizes captured by the public armed ships of the United States and sold by decree of court.
     9.-3. The resolution of congress of March 3, 1791; the act of February 25, 1799, s. 5; and the resolution of March 3, 1821; all relate to the duties of marshals in procuring prisons, and detaining and keeping prisoners.
    10.-4. The act of April 10, 1806, directs how and for what, marshals shall give bonds for the faithful execution of their office.
    11.-5. The act of September 18, 1850, s. 5, prescribes the duties of the marshal in relation to obeying and executing all warrants and precepts issued under the provisions of this act, and the penalties he shall incur for refusing to receive and execute the said warrants when rendered, and for permitting the fugitive to escape after arrest, Vide Story's L. U. S. Index, h.t.; Serg. Const. Law, ch. 25; 2 Dall. 402; United States v. Burr, 365; Mason's R. 100; 2 Gall. 101; 4 Cranch, 96; 7 Cranch, 276; 9 Cranch, 86, 212; 6 Wheat. 194; 9 Wheat. 645; Minot, Stat. U. S. Index, h.t.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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