In most countries, a marshal is a high-ranking (or the
highest-ranking) military officer
. A United States
Marshal, however, is a federal law enforcement officer, charged with apprehending fugitives from federal law, protecting the federal courts and ensuring the smooth function of the court system.
The United States Marshals Service was the first federal law enforcement agency created in the young U.S.A., in 1789. While its primary duty was to the judicial system, the Service also acted as the local-level representative of federal laws. For example, the Marshals took the census every ten years until 1870.
Marshals have the ability to deputize ordinary citizens (but not military personnel) at need, popularly known as "forming a posse
." In films and television, many marshals' deputies are clueless
, which will inevitably exasperate the marshal when he finds out. Sturgeon's Law
strongly suggests that this happened in Real Life
Since a marshal is directly responsible to the federal government, they're not as likely to be influenced by local politics as The Sheriff
or a police chief. That said, many U.S. marshals have also been sheriffs or town marshals before or after their federal service.
Note that the difference between something like the FBI and the US Marshals is that the marshals are expected to go off into the wilderness, usually alone, take into custody and bring back to justice whoever they are sent after. It pretty much requires that you be a total Badass
. So while an FBI agent might or might not be a Badass, a US Marshal always is - even if he looks like a nerd
. Big duties assigned to the Marshals Service today include Witness Protection
and prisoner transport across state lines; that said, a surprising number of them spend most of their time doing pretty mundane work like doing security at federal courthouses (manning the scanners that sprouted at the courthouse entryways after 9/11) and serving court papers and enforcing judgments on litigants in federal cases (if somebody sues you in federal court, and wins, and you refuse to just cut a check despite having plenty of stuff, it's a US Marshal who will be seizing your car or your house or your prize fancy cat to pay the judgment; if you don't have a lot of stuff but do have a steady income, it'll be the Marshals who arrange the garnishment). They are not, however, the Air Marshals assigned to flights to counter hijackings, which is a separate service entirely.
- Carrie Stetko from the Whiteout comics and movie. (In Real Life, U.S. Marshals actually do have jurisdiction in Antarctica, although as of 2008, none are permanently stationed there.)
- Several U.S. Marshals appear in the "Apokolips Road" story arc of Birds of Prey escorting metahuman prisoners. They do pretty well, considering they're way out of their weight class on Apokolips.
- Wynonna Earp from the comic book of the same title. Wynonna is a descendant of the famous lawman Wyatt Earp, and she's the top special agent for a special unit known within the US Marshals known as The Monster Squad.
- In The DCU, the 21st century 'Pow-Wow' Smith, descendant of the 19th century lawman of the same name, is a US Marshal.
- J.D. Hart from Jonah Hex.
- Sam Gerard from The Fugitive movie and its sequel U.S. Marshals.
- Clint Eastwood's character in Hang 'Em High.
- Artemus Gordon in Wild Wild West.
- Karen Sisco from Out of Sight. She gets her man, in more ways than one.
- Outland. The protagonist played by Sean Connery is a Federal Marshal, though his character resembles more The Sheriff in this Space Western inspired by High Noon.
- Marshal Strickland in Back to the Future Part III, who looks almost exactly like Wild Bill Hickok.
- Stockburn of the Clint Eastwood Western film Pale Rider is a corrupt, villainous variant.
- Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, which is Truth in Television. He was supposed to serve warrants for the cowboys who killed his brother Morgan, but it proved to be legal cover for his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger in Eraser, working on the Witness Protection program.
- Con Air.
- In Iron Man 2 Tony and Happy find an attractive woman standing by his new car. When Tony asks who she is, she replies "Marshal". It's only when she informs Tony he's being Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee that we realise it's not her name.
- One shows up in Django Unchained, in Daughtry. He is a reasonable and conscientious lawman, contrasted with the town sheriff who is in fact a wanted fugitive with a bounty on his head.
- In the later Anita Blake novels Anita, Edward (Or rather his legal identity, Ted Forrester) and other licensed vampire slayers are granted federal marshal status, mainly to take care of the legal hassles of a slayer chasing a vamp over state lines. Actually one of her more plausible upgrades.
- Morgan Kane, protagonist of the most commercially successful Norwegian book series to date, is a US marshal for most of his career.
- Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule in Shutter Island (and its film adaptation). Or is it?
- Elmore Leonard has written several prominent Marshal characters, many of whom have appeared in other media, including Raylan Givens, Karen Sisco and her father Marshall (retired, and yes, he was "Marshal Marshall Sisco.")
- Rooster Cogburn from True Grit and its two adaptations, "the meanest one, double-tough, knowing no fear".
- Deputy Marshal Custis "Longarm" Long, of the long-running Longarm paperback series. The Marshal himself in the stories is William Vail, and sometimes lends a hand.
- In the Waco series by J.T. Edson, Waco - having held a variety of law enforcement positions - ends his career as a U.S. Marshal.
- Deputy U.S. Marshal Solomon Wisdom 'Solly' Cole appears a supporting character in several of Edson's novels.
- In Portlandtown, The Marshal was one most of his life, and people still respectfully address him as such.
- Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke.
- Frank Ragan of The Dakotas is a US Marshal. He has three deputies.
- Jack Carter was a US Marshal before he became Sheriff of Eureka.
- The Red Shirt traveling with Kate in Lost, Marshal Edward Mars as portrayed by Fredric Lehne.
- Mary Shannon and Marshall Mann of In Plain Sight.
- First Sam Cain and then Teaspoon Hunter of The Young Riders. They had a habit of deputizing the entire cast, which meant they could have a lot more action plots than if the express riders had stuck to delivering the mail.
- Raylan Givens of Justified. He basically thinks he's a modern-day Wyatt Earp and actually pulls it off very well.
- A&E has Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force a documentary show about the Joint Fugitive Task Force of New York/New Jersey.
- The title character of Karen Sisco and her father Marshall, a retired Marshal.
- Breakout Kings
- The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.: Brisco County, Sr. was a US Marshal.
- Chase (NBC)
- In Time Trax, Lambert's cover in present day was as a U.S. Marshal, as it is the role of that office to apprehend fugitives.
- One episode of Dangerous Roads showed US Marshals who drove a prisoner-transport shuttle bus.
- The US Marshals are seen in Person of Interest, guarding HR's boss prior to his trial. Reese goes through them like a knife through butter. Even their SWAT Team.
- Matt Dillon of Dodge City in Gunsmoke - who described himself in the radio episodes as "the first man they look for, and the last they wanna meet. It's a chancy job, and it makes a man watchful - and a little lonely."
- James Whipple of Lightning Jim and his deputy marshal Whitey Larsson.
- An option for player characters (detailed in the Law Dogs source book) in Deadlands.
Famous Real Life Marshals
- Even though it is a Space Western, this is pretty much the Galaxy Rangers' job description.
- Bravestarr is a Galactic Marshal (which is practically the same thing) assigned to the town of Fort Kerium on the planet of New Texas.
- Frederick Douglass. Yes, that Frederick Douglass.
- Dallas Stoudenmire (1845-1882), successful City Marshal who tamed and controlled the remote, wild and violent town of El Paso, Texas; became U.S. Marshal serving West Texas and New Mexico Territory just before his death.
- Virgil and Wyatt Earp, Deputy Marshals for the Arizona Territory (Virgil first, Wyatt after his brother's death.) Virgil was also the town marshal for Tombstone.
- James "Wild Bill" Hickok, Deputy Marshal of Fort Riley, Kansas.
- Bat Masterson, later in life, was appointed a Deputy Marshal for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan, the Bronx, and the lower Hudson Valley) by Theodore Roosevelt, to give him a relatively peaceful post where he'd still be a lawman.