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Deputy U.S. Marshals
One of the oldest duties of the U.S. Marshals Service is court security. Originally this entailed the presence of a marshal or deputy in the courtroom to maintain order and to ensure the safety of the judge. In time, however, the job of protecting the courts has become much more complex. Now, depending on the trial, prosecutors, attorneys, jurors, witnesses, family members, and any other trial participant potentially in danger might be provided with security. Marshals have been assisted in carrying out these responsibilities by using advanced equipment—high-tech alarm systems, for example—as well as by improved law enforcement techniques. The Marshals Service is sometimes alerted to dangers by threats mentioned in letters or phone calls or by informants, but deputies cannot rely on these explicit means of warning. Constant vigilance is required.
A special area related to court security is the federal Witness Security Program. Witnesses who risk their lives to testify against organized crime figures or others involved in major criminal activity are given around-the-clock protection. After the trial, the witnesses are relocated to another part of the country and given a new identity. The Marshals Service provides support programs to help these witnesses adjust to their new identities and environments.
A significant part of the workload involves serving process documents and executing court orders. Private process-serving companies work for the courts to serve papers for civil cases, but the Marshals Service handles almost all of the criminal process-serving needs of the court. There are many kinds of process documents, including subpoenas, restraining orders, notices of condemnations, and summonses. In the days of the Old West, serving process documents was one of their most dangerous duties, sometimes entailing traveling on horseback for long distances, as well as face-to-face shootouts. Sophisticated equipment, allowing for better means of surveillance and coordination, has made this task less threatening. The Marshals Service now handles about one million process documents each year.
Even more dangerous are the execution of arrest warrants and the apprehension of fugitives. Along with other federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Marshals Service continues to perform these tasks, handling more than 36,000 arrest warrants each year and apprehending more fugitives than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The Marshals Service is responsible for locating and apprehending many types of fugitives, including parole and probation violators and prisoners who have escaped from federal prisons.
For most of its history, the Marshals Service has been charged with the responsibility of seizing, managing, and disposing of property involved in criminal cases. Many of these cases now involve drug trafficking. Planes, cars, boats, houses and condominiums, ranches, businesses, and restaurants, as well as personal assets such as jewelry and cash, are some examples of the type of property seized. Property seized in this manner is forfeited under the law and then sold off at public auctions or by other means. Seized property may also be transferred to law enforcement agencies for official use.
The Marshals Service is also in charge of transporting federal prisoners. Using automobiles, buses, vans, and aircraft—some of them obtained by the asset seizure program—U.S. Marshals supervise the movements of more than 275,400 prisoners each year. After a trial, convicts awaiting a sentence are also the responsibility of the Marshals Service. The average number of prisoners held in custody each day by the Marshals Service is more than 55,000.
Protecting the shipment of weapons systems is a more recent responsibility. Under an agreement with the United States Air Force, deputies direct traffic and help escort vehicles transporting weapons systems, deterring or arresting anyone who attempts to disrupt the shipment.
Within the Marshals Service is a rapid-deployment force called the Special Operations Group (SOG). The unit was formed in 1971 in order to handle national emergencies, such as civil disturbances, hostage cases, or terrorist attacks. Members of SOG are regular deputies, located in all parts of the country, who are given specialized training and who must always be on call for emergencies.
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