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What does a Subpoena Server do?

By Christy Bieber
Updated: Mar 02, 2024

A subpoena server gives a court document to a person who is mandated to do some specific action by the court. There are several types of subpoenas. A subpoena to appear as a witness is one such type of subpoena; it requires the person to whom it is issued to come to court and speak to the court. A property subpoena may also be issued, which requires the person to turn over the given property for some reason, such as owing a debt on the property or the suspected use of the property in the commission of a crime. It is the job of a subpoena server to give these subpoenas to the individuals who are requested to appear in court or to turn over the property.

The subpoena server must issue the subpoena directly to the individual the court is requiring to do the action. He must obtain a signature and/or other proof that he has issued the subpoena. This is the case because due process of the law mandates sufficient notice before a legal action is taken. Once the subpoena server has issued the formal legal request to appear, or to provide the property or to produce information, then the person who received the subpoena can be held legally liable for failure to do as the subpoena orders. When a person is found legally liable for failure to comply with a subpoena, the charge is often a contempt of court charge; it is important that the court is able to prove the subpoena server actually served the subpoena before such a charge is brought.

Subpoenas are extremely important because they allow court cases to proceed. Sometimes, a hostile witness may not wish to come to court; this could potentially impede the justice system. In addition, a person may be unwilling to turn over property or information unless he is made to do so, and he may try to dodge the court's requests. A person hired to serve a subpoena must thus be creative about finding the person and serving the documents.

Generally, a person serving a subpoena must be authorized by the court. Different courts have different rules for subpoena servers. In most cases, however, the servers must be at least 18 years of age, must have no criminal record and must be insured within the state to do business, especially if serving subpoenas for the seizure of property.

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Discussion Comments
By Misscoco — On Aug 01, 2011

@sweetPeas - From what I know, after the server of the subpoena has handed the summons to the defendant,the defendant signs it. So if he refuses to sign it, he is in contempt. Then the server must file a document called the "return of service." This document records the time, place and person served. This shows evidence that the subpoena was served.

The "return of service" is very important because it is recorded, and if the defendant doesn't appear in court, the judge can make judgment in favor of the plaintiff. And if the service isn't recorded and filed, the defendant can say that he wasn't ever served.

I'm not sure what happens next, if a charge of contempt of court is given.

By ceilingcat — On Jul 31, 2011

@starrynight - Wow, from serving subpoenas to the Coast Guard. That's certainly a big change.

My cousin just started his own detective agency, and I know they serve papers. After reading the article and some of the comments, I'm worried for my cousins safety! I think next time I talk to him I'm going to urge him to hire someone to do the subpoena serving for him.

By starrynight — On Jul 30, 2011

My step-fathers dad has owned a detective agency for years and my step-father actually worked for him for a little while when he was in his twenties. One of the things the agency does it serve people with papers.

My step-father told me that being a subpoena server is just as much detective work as the actual private investigating. As some of the other commenters said, a lot of times the person getting served doesn't want to be served. So they go through great lengths to hide from the subpoena server.

Although some people might find this exciting, my step-father didn't really enjoy it. He got tired of disguising himself and chasing people down. After a few years, he quit the agency and joined the Coast Guard, which he did enjoy.

By sweetPeas — On Jul 30, 2011

I can understand why some people enjoy being subpoena servers. They get to be detectives and use creative ways to find the person to be subpoenaed. And I think that they must get a feeling of satisfaction for completing each job. Their work is crucial in the legal process because a case can't continue until the subpoena is served and the person appears in court.

I have a couple of questions. How many times must a server try to serve a subpoena and fail, before a person is charged with contempt? And what follows after a contempt of court is issued?

By mutsy — On Jul 30, 2011

@SauteePan -I agree that this is a dangerous job. I read about a process server in Denver that was killed with a baseball bat because he served a man with divorce papers that already had a restraining order against his estranged wife. He also killed his children and was convicted of one life sentence with an addition term of 45 years.

It is a dangerous line of work and I think that many of these servers should be police officers that can fight back not lay citizens that might be putting their life in jeopardy especially when one of these people snaps and become violent.

By Moldova — On Jul 29, 2011

@SauteePan - I would imagine that they will be held in contempt of court. You really have no choice when you are served a subpoena and I am sure it is documented somehow.

I think that a pair of process servers should go together in case the person being served denies ever receiving the documents. This way there is a witness so that argument goes out the window.

I actually think that it would be an interesting job that might even be lucrative if you sign up with a lot of law firms.

By SauteePan — On Jul 28, 2011

I think that becoming a subpoena server can be a little dangerous especially if you are serving someone that does want to be served with papers.

I personally would be a little nervous about how a person reacts especially when they are being sued, receiving news of a divorce or even told that they are being evicted from the property.

This is really bad news that not all people handle well. I wonder what would happen if the person being served destroys the paperwork in front of the server and refuses to sign the notice. Will he or she be held in contempt of court or will they issue another subpoena?

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