Civil Process: Serving a Subpoena & Tracking Down Elusive Witnesses

Civil Process: Serving a Subpoena & Tracking Down Elusive Witnesses

Locating an elusive witness can be an issue for process servers.

From: Sunbelt Reporting and Litigation Services, Houston, TX

On paper, civil process service seems easy: knock on the door and hand the witness the subpoena. But what if the witness isn’t home? What if the witness doesn’t want to be found? While most legal papers are routinely served with few hassles, the occasional elusive witness can cause problems. Houston court reporting companies can help locate witnesses you need for your case.

Tip #1: Know the Civil Process Service Laws for the State Where the Papers will be Served
Each state has its own civil process service laws, making it important to understand the process for the state in which the subpoena must be served. Attorneys, public officials, civil process service providers, and private investigators are usually knowledgeable about civil process laws for their states. However, not all states require licensing of process servers. For example, in Massachusetts, any person over age 18 who is not a witness to the case and who is not related to the person being served may serve a subpoena. In Texas, process servers do not need to be licensed; however, they must be authorized by the county court that is involved. Because laws vary, crossing state lines to serve a subpoena requires knowledge about that state’s civil process laws. What may be permissible in Texas may not be in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, or New Mexico.

Tip#2: Keep Your Business to Yourself
In some jurisdictions, sub-service, or substituted service, is allowed. This means that if the witness or defendant is not home, you can serve the papers to another person in the household. Again, rules vary by state, so make sure you understand when, where, and under what circumstances sub-service is allowed. If sub-service is not applicable, someone else answers the door, and the witness is not home, you generally do not need to identify yourself or why you are visiting. Simply thank the other person and excuse yourself. Giving information to the other person could tip off the witness that a process server is looking for him, causing the witness to go deeper into hiding.

Tip#3: Use Investigative Skills
If you know where the witness works, calling the office and asking when the best time to reach him is often effective. Social networks may also provide you with clues. While many people choose not to share too much information online, others are careless and could lead you right to them.

Depending on how important the witness is to your case, you may want to hire a private investigator. Private investigators have access to huge databases of public and private information and can quickly discover a person’s employment history, home and rental home history, and other information that can point to the person’s possible whereabouts. However, this could prove to be quite expensive, especially if the witness does not want to be found.

Tip #4: Use a Civil Process Service
Like private investigators, companies specializing in civil process service often use tools like public information databases to guide them in their searches for elusive witnesses. What would take you hours or days to discover, takes a professional with appropriate database access just a few keystrokes. By hiring a civil process specialist, you can rest assured that the witness will be found and served according to all local civil process service laws. Instead of wasting your time trying to find a witness yourself and risking mistakes and delays, let a specialist do the job for you.