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In civil court matters, a process server is someone who serves or delivers legal documents, ie. subpeonas, summonses, court orders, various legal notices and in some cases writs. Process servers normally fall into one of four (4) categories:
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1. Registered or licensed process servers: In most states, process servers are registered by their county. In some states, like California a process server, once registered in one county can serve papers in any other county within that state. In some other states a process server can only serve papers in the county in which he or she is registered. Most, but not all counties, when registering a process server require the applicant to be bonded or insured.
2. Private detectives and investigators: In most states private detectives and investigators are licensed by the state and exempt from registering as process servers. They and anyone in their employ can serve legal process and when doing so are considered officers of the court.
3. Sheriffs, Marshals and Constables: Sworn peace officers.
4. Non registered or licensed individuals: Friends, relatives and others.
In many states as in California a non registered individual may serve up to ten (10) legal documents each year provided that individual is not a party to the action at hand. ie: a plaintiff or defendant, etc.. When the service of the paper has been completed the server must sign an affidavit that the paper was served properly. That affidavit must usually be signed under penalty of perjury.
It is not usually a good idea to have a non professional serve process. They do not normally know the laws and rules involved in process serving nor do they usually know how to fill out a proper proof of service. Either of these can cause a service to be declared invalid and possibly cause you to lose the case or at the least force you to start over. Additionally many people attempt to evade service and a professional has a better chance of completing service. Finally, process serving can be very dangerous. Many people get very angry when served and attempt to take it out on the process server. Over the years I have had many servers beat up and attacked with knives or clubs or hit with thrown rocks.
At one time, Sheriffs, Marshals and Constables were considered good choices for serving papers, however that is not now usually the case. Most Marshals no longer serve papers and many Sheriffs and Constables are so busy doing other things that your papers may sit for weeks or longer before or if they are taken out for service. Additionally, many people, when the see a Marshal's or Sheriff's uniform, just do not answer their door. The Sheriff or Marshal walks away and the papers are returned unserved.
Licensed private detectives and investigators can sometimes make the best servers, however not all of them serve papers and many believe that since they are "big shot" investigators they should charge far more than registered process servers. Others serve so few papers that they sometimes "make a mountain out of a molehill" and turn a fairly easy service into a difficult one. Other investigators turn every service into an investigation in order to run up billable hours. Then again, if you find a good detective agency, they will have numerous service assignments and investigators that can serve papers fast and efficiently for a reasonable fee.