Imagine a stranger rushing up to ring your doorbell or coming to your office with a stack of white legal papers that he or she must give you in person. If this ever happens to you, it probably means you are getting served legal process. It's normal to feel somewhat frightened and like you're being followed, but it's important to remember that you have a legal right to these filings as part of the due process guarantee. Whether these filings are in relation to civil or criminal matters or issues large or small, you need to pay attention to them right away.
The court filings can be in "legalese. They aren't meant to be easy for the average person to read, but ought to be in simple enough language for you to comprehend at some level. We would like to talk about the different court filings you could receive, but you should never skimp on consulting with a lawyer for any serious matter.
States have different rules for who can serve process, but it's best if the opposing party has hired a professional like those at experienced divorce attorney Provo UT to do the job. These people will understand all the legal rules and ramifications, particularly about things like stalking and trespassing, so they can ensure that both the rights of the recipient and the responsibilities of the plaintiff or prosecutor are attended to.
Let's take a look at the general kinds of court filings you could be handed by a constable:
Summons: Whether between you and another party or between you and the police, a summons is a call for you to appear before a judge or administrative court. These usually give a specific date and time to appear. If you don't appear, you can either lose the case immediately or face contempt charges.
Citation: These specific summons are given, most often, by police officers, so aren't really in the category of process serving. Common citations, including those for traffic violations, generally require that you show up in court or pay fines by a future date. Receiving one of these is not saying you're guilty but, rather, a pledge that you will show up. Failure to do so can mean automatic findings of fault and growing fines.
Civil Summons: This legal call to court includes a precise time when you should go to court. It is separate from a simple complaint informing you of the lawsuit. These can be given by a constable in many civil cases, including family law ones.
Administrative Summons: These are sent by the IRS and are part of making sure everyone pays heed to the tax laws. These summons require the receiving party to show up before a federal tax examiner and have in hand verifying documents. This is set aside as the final step in an IRS investigation after agents have attempted the taxes due in other ways.
Small Claims Summons: Process serving documents related to small financial disagreements generally come from small claims court, and they can be classified as complaints in most cases. These generally force you to make the debt right with the issuer or to meet your opponent in court. If you don't, you will almost certainly have a judgment entered against you on your credit report.
Complaints: A complaint is a kind of court filing, usually civil, and is the first one filed in a lawsuit. If you are served with a complaint, it means you are the defendant in a lawsuit. There can also be criminal complaints, which are more serious than citations but often less serious than indictments.
Indictments: These criminal filings are served after a grand jury , which meets without a judge, gathers to consider a potential felony case against you. A grand jury, like a regular jury, is made up of peers but the proceedings aresecret. This special jury determines whether there is enough evidence to charge you with a felony. Without an indictment, the most serious cannot be argued before a judge. These documents will be served to you or your lawyer.
Petitions: This kind legal pleading starts a lawsuit, but asks for non-monetary or equitable relief such as a Writ of Mandamus (an order to do or forebear from doing something) or Habeus Corpus (a request for person under arrest to be brought before a court to learn why they were arrested). These can also be served in lawsuits such as those regarding child custody and probate.
Subpoenas: These aren't complaints or pleadings, like other process serving documents, and often have to be signed off on by a court clerk. They are a type of summons, but they force you to appear as a witness, require you to present documentary evidence such as tangible items, records, books or papers or require you to attend a deposition. These are often served between lawyers rather than to you personally, but ignoring them can mean contempt charges or a forfeiture of your claims and a judgment against you.
Two U.S. Constitutional Amendments, the Fifth and the Fourteenth, guarantee the right to due process in legal matters. Many other countries around the globe also guarantee due process and have process serving procedures. If you are suing, it's important to your case to get process documents served properly to your opponent. If you are being sued, it's just as important to pay attention to the filing's orders or you could face even more serious legal trouble. Process serving may be an intimidating and unpleasant experience, but it's very important under our system of governance.