What is a Subpoena Service?

Jan Hill

A subpoena service is how a subpoena, a written court order commanding a person to make an appearance, is delivered to a witness. Subpoena service can be done in a variety of ways in the United States according to the requirements of a particular court. Some jurisdictions may specify that subpoena service be performed by a law enforcement official, such as a sheriff or constable. Others allow those who work for private service business, commonly called process servers, to serve subpoenas. Some courts provide that subpoenas may be served by mail or allow acceptance to be made by another individual, such as an attorney or an insurance representative.

A person serving a subpoena.
A person serving a subpoena.

A subpoena is typically prepared by an attorney who represents one of the parties in the case. The subpoena is usually signed and issued by the court that has jurisdiction over the matter. National and local courts all have the authority to issue subpoenas. In federal court, an attorney may also be allowed to sign and issue a subpoena if he is licensed to practice law in the court in which the case is pending.

A subpoena service is the manner by which subpoenas are delivered to a witness.
A subpoena service is the manner by which subpoenas are delivered to a witness.

The two types of subpoenas that require service include the subpoena ad testificandum, which orders the witness to appear, and the subpoena duces tecum, which compels an appearance as well as the production of specific documents. Law enforcement officials and process servers typically pick up the subpoena intended for service at the office of the requesting attorney. They are usually provided with a name, address, and phone number of the witness to help them complete service. It is the job of the process server to ascertain that they are serving the correct person, and they sometimes make several attempts before successful service is achieved.

If a witness refuses to accept or attempts to avoid subpoena service, they are sometimes held in contempt of court. The same is true if they accept service, but later refuse to appear. Individuals may face civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance with a subpoena. If a witness believes that he is within his rights to refuse to comply with a subpoena, he may file a motion to quash the subpoena, which if granted, would make the subpoena invalid.

After subpoena service, the individual who provided service usually returns a document called a proof of service to the requester. The proof of service contains the date, manner of service, and the name of the person served. It is commonly signed by the individual who performed service, and filing with the trial court clerk's office is sometimes required. Whoever requests subpoena service will usually be required to pay a fee, which includes gas mileage, to the process server.

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