California Subpoena Service Rules

June 7, 2024

A subpoena is a legal document that compels the recipients to testify as witnesses or produce documents in a legal proceeding. Section 1985 of the Code of Civil Procedure outlines the California subpoena service rules, detailing procedures for issuing, serving, and responding to subpoenas in the state.

The rules cut across the service of process, type of subpoena issued, timing and notice, consequences of non-compliance, and other factors. So, it’s necessary to understand these rules to be sure your subpoena is valid and successful.

On-Call Legal Process Servers are your go-to experts for subpoena services both within California and nationwide. Our licensed process servers are always available to help you receive, file, and deliver your legal papers without delay. If you’re looking to summon a witness or obtain legal documents as evidence through a subpoena, the best step to take is to reach out to us for professional subpoena services and expert guidance throughout the process.

In this article, let’s look at the rules and requirements for valid subpoena service in California, the right process of service, and common mistakes to avoid.

Basic Requirements For Serving a Subpoena in California

Basic Requirements For Serving a Subpoena in California

Serving a subpoena in California involves specific requirements to ensure that the process is legally valid. Below are the basic requirements for serving a subpoena in California:

Who Can Serve a Subpoena?

In California, a person serving a subpoena must be at least 18 years old and must not be a party to the case. This ensures impartiality and independence in the service of the legal documents. This person is often referred to as the “process server” or “server of process.”

Personal Service

Subpoenas in California require the process server to deliver the subpoena to the recipient in person. This means they should physically hand over the subpoena to the individual or entity named in the subpoena or leave it at their residence with someone of suitable age and discretion. Personal service helps ensure that the person subpoenaed is aware of the legal mandate to appear in court to testify or produce documents.

Service on a Business Entity

If the intended recipient of a subpoena is a business, corporation, or other legal entity, it can often be served on an officer, managing agent, or another person authorized to accept service on behalf of the entity. The rules for serving subpoenas on different types of entities may vary, so it’s important to check and adhere to the specific requirements.

Service of Subpoena Duces Tecum

If the subpoena is a “subpoena duces tecum” requiring the production of documents, the person serving the subpoena must also provide reasonable advance notice to the subpoenaed person.

Qualified Process Servers

Qualified Process Servers

While anyone over the age of 18 can serve a subpoena, it’s best to hire a professional process server. Process servers are trained in legal procedures and have experience in serving legal documents.

Time Frame for Service

Subpoenas should be served within a reasonable time before the date the person is required to appear or provide documents. This allows the recipient sufficient time to comply.

Proof of Service Affidavit

When you hire someone to serve papers, the person serving the subpoena typically completes a “Return of Service” or an affidavit of service and files it with the court as a confirmation that they have properly served the subpoena. The affidavit details how and when the subpoena was served.

Service Fees and Mileage

According to California law, the person subpoenaed to appear as a witness is entitled to receive witness fees and mileage reimbursement.

Compliance With the California Code of Civil Procedure

Whether it’s a deposition subpoena, subpoena ad testificandum, or subpoenas duces tecum, the party requesting the subpoena and the process server must make sure the service adheres to the relevant rules in the Civil Procedure to certify the validity of the subpoena.

It’s important to note that these are general guidelines, and specific rules may vary depending on the type of case and the court involved. For more precise and proper guidance, schedule an appointment with our expert legal professionals at On-Call Legal to understand your situation and stay compliant.

What Are the Procedures for Serving a Subpoena in California?

What are the Procedures for Serving a Subpoena in California?

Below is a detailed step-by-step guide on how to serve a subpoena in California.

  1. Understand the context of the case to ensure accurate and appropriate service.
  2. Draft the subpoena document stating the recipient’s obligations and other relevant information.
  3. Identify the legally approved party to receive the subpoena.
  4. Ensure that the individual’s jurisdiction falls within that of the court issuing the subpoena.
  5. Verify the contact details of the recipient of the subpoena.
  6. Serve the subpoena personally. While it’s technically possible to draft and serve subpoenas independently, the process requires familiarity with legal procedures and jurisdictional rules and any error in service can affect the validity of the subpoena. Hence, it’s best to hire an experienced process server to be sure the document is served correctly.
  7. If the recipient is not available, the process server may leave the subpoena with a person of suitable age and discretion at the recipient’s residence or workplace.
  8. Document service details such as date, time, method, and other relevant information.
  9. Give the recipient ample time to respond to the summon while also adhering to legal timelines for service and response.
  10. Monitor the recipient’s compliance with the timeline and keep a record of it.
  11. Submit proof of service or non-compliance to the court that issued the subpoena.

Subpoena Service Methods in California

Subpoena Service Methods in California

On the topic of proper subpoena service methods, in-person service is usually the way to go. However, a subpoena doesn’t need to be served in person in California and as such, there are various methods of subpoena services available to you. Here are the significant methods:

1. Personal Service

This is the traditional method where the subpoena is physically handed to the person named in the document. It is the standard and most preferred method. The server must identify the person served and hand them a copy of the subpoena.

2. Service by Mail

A subpoena may also be delivered by certified mail through the postal service. This method is often used when physical delivery is not feasible or when the recipient is more likely to be responsive to mail service. The witness acknowledges receipt of the subpoena in writing.

Service by mail might not be appropriate for witness subpoenas requiring personal appearance. Rather, they’re commonly used for subpoena duces tecum issued to the recipient to provide documents as evidence to a legal proceeding.

3. Electronic Service

Electronic service, or e-service, refers to delivering subpoenas through electronic means, such as email or fax. In California, the use of electronic service is allowed under specific conditions:

  • The subpoenaed person must give explicit consent to receive subpoenas and other legal documents electronically. However, this consent can be implied if the recipient has previously accepted electronic service or has indicated a willingness to do so.
  • The party serving the subpoena may verify receipt of the subpoena by obtaining other identifying information from the recipient via reliable methods such as their driver’s license number or Department of Motor Vehicles identification number to ascertain that they served the documents to the right person.

4. Substituted Service

Substituted service is also used when personal delivery is impractical. It involves leaving the subpoena with someone at the recipient’s residence or workplace, and mailing a copy to the recipient’s last known address. When the recipient confirms the subpoena, it has the same force and effect as a subpoena personally served.

How To Hire a Process Server?

How To Hire a Process Server

Before you hire someone to serve papers, you need to understand the steps to take and factors to consider to make sure they serve your documents correctly. These key steps include:

  1. Identify the documents you want to serve. 
  2. Consider the location of the recipient as this can affect the choice of server due to local laws and travel requirements.
  3. Find a qualified process server. You can ask for recommendations from other lawyers or law firms, or use directories such as the National Association of Professional Process Server (NAPPS).
  4. Assess the process server to be sure they suit your needs. Ask about their experience in serving the type of documents you want to serve. Additionally, check if the process server is legitimate. One way to do that is to find out if they are certified or licensed if it’s required in the region you’re serving.
  5. Confirm their pricing. It might be best to compare quotes from multiple servers. Remember to consider additional costs such as mileage and documentation fees. In addition, crosscheck to be sure there are no hidden fees.
  6. If your process service is urgent, check that the process server offers express delivery options such as rush service or same-day delivery.
  7. Based on your assessments, choose a process server and provide the documents. It’s advisable to provide clear instructions and mention any requirement that is noteworthy. Moreover, maintain communication with the process server to keep track of where the documents are at every point. After the service, do well to collect your proof of service for reference purposes.

How Much Does it Cost To Hire Someone To Serve Papers?

The average cost of hiring a process server in California ranges from $40 to $200. However, the exact amount depends on various factors such as the location of the recipient,  the nature of the document to be served, the urgency of the delivery, etc.

For instance, serving someone located outside California will likely cost much more than serving a recipient within the state. Moreover, court papers that may require urgent delivery, such as restraining orders, may cost more as the party serving the paper may have to subscribe to extra services such as rush delivery. 

It’s advisable to hire a process server in the same location or region where the recipient is located to minimize the effect of distance on the costs. Additionally, if you have regular process service needs as an attorney or law firm, you can strike a deal with your process server for a monthly subscription package to make the cost more predictable for easier budgeting.

Common Mistakes in Serving a Subpoena and How To Avoid Them

Common Mistakes in Serving a Subpoena and How to Avoid Them

Mistakes in subpoena service can disrupt a court hearing or other legal proceedings, and so should be avoided. Here are common mistakes to be aware of while serving a subpoena.

Failure to Follow Legal Procedures

Each jurisdiction has specific rules and procedures for serving subpoenas. The subpoena may be considered invalid if you fail to adhere to these rules. So, endeavor to understand and follow the proper legal procedures for service in your jurisdiction. Additionally, you need to learn how to subpoena out-of-state if your intended recipient is not in you state.

Improper Timing

Late service of process may lead to delays and other complications that may affect the legal proceedings. Serve the subpoena as early as possible to give the recipient enough time to prepare for their witnessing, gather relevant documents, verify receipt, etc.

Incorrect Recipient

Mistakenly serving a subpoena to the wrong person can render it ineffective. Double-check and confirm the identity and address of the intended recipient.

Improper Service

Serving legal documents should be done professionally and without confrontation. Avoid any aggressive or intimidating behavior, as it can lead to complications or even legal consequences. Better still, hire a competent process server to stay compliant and professional.

Incomplete or Inaccurate Information

The subpoena should contain accurate and complete information. This includes the names and addresses of the parties involved, a written notice requesting the witness to appear in court a clear description of the documents or testimony required, and other relevant details.

Lack of Proper Records

It’s important to maintain detailed records of the service process, including the date, time, and manner of service. Proper documentation can be valuable in case there are disputes about the correctness of the service.

Attention to Service Requirements for Specific Documents

Different types of documents may have specific rules regarding service. For example, the requirements for serving a subpoena for medical records might differ from serving a subpoena for business records or electronically stored information. Research about any special considerations based on the type of information. Alternatively, engage the services of a process server experienced in the specific type of subpoena you want.

Ignoring Privacy and Confidentiality

Ignoring Privacy and Confidentiality

Especially when dealing with sensitive information, be mindful of privacy and confidentiality concerns when serving subpoenas. On-Call Legal Process Servers adhere to strict data protection protocols and industry-best practices to safeguard all information and documents. Our team is trained to handle sensitive data, ensuring it remains protected throughout the subpoena process.

Ignoring Challenges or Objections

The recipient may file a motion against improper service to challenge your subpoena. Ignoring these challenges can lead to complications in the legal proceedings. You need to address these issues promptly and in accordance with the legal process.


Appropriate judgment of a legal case requires more than just an understanding of the law; it also requires access to relevant evidence, testimonies, and records to support or refute legal claims. To obtain these legal documents using a subpoena, you must follow the rules and requirements stipulated by the California Code of Civil Procedure.

If you’re seeking to gather essential documents or secure the testimony of a pivotal witness through a subpoena, reach out to On-Call Legal Process Servers to have us assist you. With our dedicated team and thorough understanding of subpoena processes, we help you stay compliant while serving the subpoena so you can focus on the broader aspects of your case with confidence. Contact us today to get started.

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