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Sheriff vs. Marshal: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 12, 2024
A sheriff is an elected official responsible for law enforcement in a county, while a marshal can be a federal or municipal law officer with varying duties, often broader in scope.

Key Differences

Sheriffs are typically elected officials who serve as the chief law enforcement officer in a county. Marshals, on the other hand, can be federal officers (U.S. Marshals) or local law enforcement officers, with responsibilities that vary depending on their jurisdiction.
The role of a sheriff often includes operating county jails, serving warrants, and providing court security. Marshals, particularly U.S. Marshals, are involved in tasks like protecting federal courts, managing assets seized from criminal enterprises, and apprehending fugitives.
Sheriffs usually have jurisdiction within their specific counties, making them integral to local law enforcement. Marshals can have broader authority; for example, U.S. Marshals operate nationwide.
Sheriffs are often accountable to the citizens of their county through elections. In contrast, marshals are usually appointed and may work for a federal agency or local government.
The sheriff's role is deeply rooted in local community and county matters, whereas the marshal's role can encompass more national or city-level responsibilities, especially in the case of U.S. Marshals.

Comparison Chart


Elected county official
Federal or municipal officer

Primary Duties

Operating jails, serving warrants, court security
Protecting courts, asset management, apprehending fugitives


Nationwide or municipal, depending on type


To county citizens via elections
Appointed, often by a federal or local government

Role Focus

Local law enforcement and community matters
Broader authority, including national responsibilities

Sheriff and Marshal Definitions


Serves legal documents like warrants and subpoenas.
The sheriff served a warrant for the suspect's arrest.


Apprehends fugitives and manages prisoner operations.
The marshal led the team that apprehended the escaped convict.


An elected official responsible for county law enforcement.
The sheriff was elected due to his strong stance on crime.


A law enforcement officer with national or city-level jurisdiction.
The marshal coordinated a federal fugitive operation.


Oversees the county jail and court security.
The sheriff implemented new safety protocols at the county jail.


Responsible for protecting federal courts and judges.
The marshal ensured the security of the federal courthouse.


A chief law enforcement officer in a county.
The sheriff organized a neighborhood watch program.


Manages and disposes of seized assets in criminal cases.
The marshal auctioned off assets from the drug bust.


Plays a key role in local community safety.
The sheriff spoke at the community safety meeting.


Can be a U.S. Marshal with nationwide authority.
The U.S. marshal was involved in witness protection.


A public officer in the United States with responsibility for certain law enforcement and administrative legal duties, such as making arrests and serving processes, usually for a particular county.


A military officer of the highest rank in some countries.


A field marshal.


Are marshals part of the federal government?

U.S. Marshals are, but local marshals may not be.

Is a sheriff always elected?

Yes, sheriffs are typically elected by county residents.

Do marshals work independently or in a team?

They can work both independently and as part of a team.

Can a sheriff make arrests?

Yes, sheriffs have the authority to make arrests within their county.

Are sheriffs involved in court proceedings?

Yes, they often provide court security and enforce court orders.

Do marshals handle witness protection?

Yes, U.S. Marshals manage the Witness Security Program.

Can a sheriff enforce state and local laws?

Yes, they enforce both state and local laws within their county.

Do sheriffs manage jails?

In many counties, sheriffs are responsible for jail management.

Can a sheriff's deputy perform the same duties?

Yes, deputies can perform most duties under the sheriff's authority.

What's the main difference in their jurisdictions?

Sheriffs primarily operate in counties, while marshals can have wider (sometimes national) jurisdiction.

Do marshals have specialized training?

Yes, especially U.S. Marshals, who undergo extensive federal law enforcement training.

Are marshals involved in community policing?

Local marshals might be, but U.S. Marshals generally focus on broader federal responsibilities.

Are marshals involved in transporting prisoners?

Yes, especially U.S. Marshals, who handle prisoner transport.

Are marshals involved in court asset seizures?

Yes, particularly in managing and disposing of seized assets.

Can marshals issue warrants?

Yes, particularly in federal cases.

Do sheriffs have a role in emergency response?

Yes, they often coordinate local emergency response efforts.

Can a sheriff create law enforcement policies?

Yes, within their jurisdiction and in line with state and federal laws.

How long is a sheriff's term?

It varies, but it's typically four years.

Is a sheriff's role the same in all counties?

There are similarities, but specific duties can vary by county.

Do marshals collaborate with other agencies?

Yes, especially U.S. Marshals, who frequently collaborate with other law enforcement agencies.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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