If you've ever had a pile of legal filings come to you as process service, you know it can be a somewhat scary and anxious situation. An unusual person might arrive at your home, your place of work or, perhaps, another public place to hand you legal filings. These legal filings can come in many forms, related to both civil and criminal cases. They can come as a surprise, can be something you forgot, or can be something you're waiting for, as in some cases of litigation, criminal charges or divorce.
The legal filings can be written in "legalese," the language used by courts. They aren't meant to be easy for the layperson to read, but should be in plain enough language for you to digest basically. We would like to talk about the different kinds of legal filings you could be served with, but you should always consider meeting with a lawyer for any serious issue.
States have different rules for who can serve process, but it's best if the opposing party has hired a professional like those at family law practice East Troy, Wi 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.
Broadly, here are the a few of the categories of legal filings you could be handed by a process server:
Summons: Whether in criminal court or the halls of civil justice, a summons is a call for you to appear in a court. These usually give a specific date and time to appear. If you don't, you can either be charged with contempt of court or can lose the civil case as a "non-responsive party".
Citation: These specific summons are handed out, usually, by police officers, so aren't exactly known as process serving. The most common citations, including those for traffic violations, usually require that you respond in court or pay fines by a future date. Accepting one of these is not any further responsibility or admission but, rather, a pledge that you will show up. Failure to do so can mean immediate findings of guilt and growing fines.
Civil Summons: This is a category of filing in a civil matter that includes an exact time and date when you should appear. It is different from a simple complaint informing you of the lawsuit.
Administrative Summons: These come from the IRS and are for the purpose of ensuring that everyone gives their fair share according to the tax laws. These documents require the receiving party to appear before a federal tax examiner and provide documentation. This is supposed to be the ultimate step in an IRS investigation.
Small Claims Summons: Process serving documents related to small financial disagreements usually come from small claims court as complaints. These usually mean you have to start working with the creditor right away or to appear before the court. If you don't, you will likely have a credit judgment against you.
Complaints: A complaint is a kind of legal filing, usually civil, and is generally the first one filed in a court case. If you are handed a complaint, it means you have been sued and are now a defendant in a court case. Criminal complaints are more serious than citations but often less grave than indictments.
Indictments: These criminal filings are served after a grand jury, led by a prosecutor, gathers to consider a felony case against you. A grand jury, like a regular jury, is made up of fellow citizens but the proceedings aresecret. This special group determines whether there is enough evidence to charge you with a crime. Without an indictment, the most serious crimes, such a murders, cannot be prosecuted. Indictment documents will be served to you or your legal representative.
Petitions: This kind legal filing starts a court case, but asks for non-monetary or equitable relief such as a Writ of Mandamus (an order to do or cease doing something) or Habeus Corpus (a request for an arrested person to hear the charges against them). These can also be handed out in cases such as those in family law.
Subpoenas: These fall under different rules from complaints and often have to be sent by a court clerk. They are a kind of summons, but they require you to appear as a witness, require you to present documentary evidence or tell you to attend a deposition with an lawyer. These are often served between attorneys rather than to you personally, but not responding can mean contempt charges or a loss of your case.
The U.S. Constitution, like the founding documents of many other countries around the world, protect residents by ensuring due process in legal matters. That means everyone is entitled to a chance to argue their case in a fair, equitable forum. Professional process service is vital to this civil right and, when completed the right way, can make the ordeal easier for everyone.