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How Is a Subpoena Legally Served in California?

March 1, 2024

For a subpoena to be valid in the state of California, it must be served the right way. If you serve a subpoena wrongly, the intended recipient can file a motion to dismiss or quash the document as long as they can prove improper service. This means you may lose out on important evidence or witnesses to support your legal claims as the subpoena is nullified. Hence, you need to learn and understand the legally approved methods of subpoena services in California and the rules guiding them so you can stay compliant.

The most common legal way to serve a subpoena in California is personal service. However, you can also explore other legally approved alternative methods such as mail, e-service, etc., depending on the nature of the case and what the subpoena is requesting. To avoid improper service, the best way to deliver your subpoena is through a professional process server in California.

At On-Call Legal, our certified process servers will help you prepare and serve subpoenas nationwide with same-day delivery. You can be sure your legal documents get delivered without delay. Schedule a free consultation with us to discuss your subpoena service.

In this guide, you will learn the accepted methods for serving a subpoena and a step-by-step guide on how to serve a subpoena in California.

Legal Methods of Service of Subpoena in California

Legal Methods of Service of Subpoena in California

There are different methods for legally serving a subpoena in California, depending on the type of subpoena and the nature of the case. The general goal of these methods is to make sure that the recipient gets proper notice and has enough time to respond to the legal requirements in the subpoena issued.
The legally accepted methods of subpoena service in California include:

  1. Personal Service: This is the most common method where the server hands the subpoena directly to the person named in the subpoena. It is the preferred method for serving a subpoena because it provides the clearest proof that the individual was notified. Personal service is also known as personal delivery or in-person service.
  2. Substituted Service: If in-person service fails after a reasonable number of attempts, the server may serve the subpoena by leaving a copy with someone of suitable age and discretion. The person must be at the intended recipient’s home or usual place of business. Additionally, the server has to mail a copy to the person at the same place where they served the subpoena. This method is only used for serving subpoenas for the production of documents (subpoenas duces tecum) and not for personal appearances in court.
  3. Service by Mail: In some cases, you may be permitted to serve subpoena by mail. Subpoena service by mail requires the use of certified or registered mail to provide a return receipt as proof of service. The specifics can vary depending on the court’s rules and the type of subpoena being served.
  4. Service by Mail with Acknowledgment of Receipt: You can also serve a subpoena by first-class mail if the recipient agrees to acknowledge receipt of the subpoena. The recipient must sign a form provided by the sender acknowledging that they have received the subpoena.
  5. Electronic Service: In California, serving subpoenas by email or fax is allowed under certain rules. To use this method, also known as e-service, the subpoenaed person must agree to receive legal documents electronically. This agreement can be clear if they say yes to it, or it can be assumed if they’ve accepted electronic documents before or have shown they’re open to it. When using electronic service, the person sending the subpoena needs to make sure it goes to the right person. They can confirm the recipient’s identity by getting extra information such as the recipient’s driver’s license number or motor vehicle identification number from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  6. Through the Court Clerk’s Office: In some instances, such as when a witness is a prisoner, the subpoena may be left with the court clerk’s office. This method is subject to strict rules and typically requires coordination with the facility where the individual is held.

The Legal Framework for Serving a Subpoena in California

The Legal Framework for Serving a Subpoena in California

The California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) contains a set of statutes and procedural rules that regulate the service of subpoenas in California. Sections 1985 through 1997 outline the procedures for issuing both subpoena duces tecum and subpoena ad testificandum. These sections specify how subpoenas must be prepared, served, and what obligations and rights accompany them.

Who Has the Authority to Issue Subpoenas?

Under the CCP, subpoenas can be issued by the clerk of the court or attorneys of record in the proceedings. In some cases, subpoenas can also be issued by other administrative agencies as authorized by specific statutes or court orders.

For a court hearing involving federal law or in federal court, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provide the authority and guidelines for issuing subpoenas. While these rules are distinct from California’s statutes, they similarly empower courts and parties to compel evidence and testimony.

Who Can Serve a Subpoena in California?

In California, a subpoena can be served by any person who is at least 18 years old and not a party to the case. This means that a friend, family member, coworker, or professional process server can serve a subpoena in California as long as they meet the age and party requirements.

It’s important to note that some types of subpoenas, such as subpoenas to produce documents such as business records or electronically stored information, may have specific rules or requirements for service. So, it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney or legal professional if you need to serve such special documents.

The Role of the Judicial Council of California in Setting Rules for Subpoena Service

The Role of the Judicial Council of California in Setting Rules for Subpoena Service

The Judicial Council of California develops and adopts rules of court that specify the procedures for serving subpoenas in California. These rules cover various aspects, including the acceptable methods of service, timelines for service, and the rights and obligations of both the serving and receiving parties.

By establishing statewide rules, the Judicial Council ensures that all California courts adopt a uniform approach to subpoena service. This standardization helps prevent confusion and inconsistency, making for smoother judicial processes for parties involved in a legal proceeding. In formulating these rules, the Judicial Council balances the need for effective legal processes with the protection of individual rights. They consider the privacy and convenience of those being served with subpoenas, as well as ensuring that parties have adequate time to respond or object to subpoenas.

The Council also plays a crucial role in updating and adapting rules to accommodate technological changes, such as the allowance for electronic service of subpoenas. The aim is to see that the legal framework remains relevant and effective in the digital age.

Beyond rulemaking, the Judicial Council provides guidance and educational resources related to subpoena service. This includes publishing materials that help litigants, attorneys, and the public understand the rules and how to comply with them.

Step-by-Step Guide to Legally Serving a Subpoena

Step-by-Step Guide to Legally Serving a Subpoena

For your subpoena to be valid, you must understand and follow the right steps when serving it. If you don’t serve it appropriately, the intended recipient may reject the subpoena or file a motion to dismiss for insufficient service. Follow these steps to achieve proper service.

1. Obtain the Subpoena

Get the subpoena form from the clerk of the court where your case is filed. Attorneys can also issue and sign a subpoena on behalf of the court. For a criminal case, the subpoena may be issued by the court or, in some cases, by the prosecutor’s office.

2. Complete the Subpoena

Fill out the subpoena form. Specify the name of the court, the case number, the names of the parties involved, and the specific details of the testimony or documents required. Include the date, time, and location where the person must appear or deliver the documents.

3. Determine the Appropriate Method of Service

Find out what is the most appropriate method of service based on the recipient’s location, the type of subpoena, and your ability to complete service. Personal delivery is the most commonly used method, but other methods include substituted service, service by mail, or electronic service if applicable.

4. Serve the Subpoena

Have someone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the case personally deliver the subpoena to the person named on the subpoena. If personal service is not feasible, leave the subpoena at the person’s home or business with someone of suitable age and discretion. Afterward, mail a copy of the subpoena personally served to the same address. For service by mail, send the subpoena via certified or registered mail with a written notice requesting a return receipt, if allowed.

5. Provide Proof of Service

The person who serves the subpoena must complete a proof of service form, detailing how, when, and where the subpoena was served. This form verifies to the court that the subpoena was served according to legal requirements.

6. File the Proof of Service

If the witness acknowledges receipt, file the completed proof of service with the court clerk in the court where the legal matter is pending. You may not need to take this step for all types of subpoenas or cases, so it’s important to check the specific requirements for your situation.

7. Prepare for Compliance or Enforcement

After the subpoena is served, prepare for the next steps, depending on the response of the person served. If they comply, proceed with your case as planned. If they do not comply, you may need to seek the court’s assistance to enforce the subpoena.

Serving a Subpoena to a Non-Resident of California

Serving a Subpoena to a Non-Resident of California

If you’re serving a subpoena to someone in another state, you must comply with the laws of both California and the state where the person resides. The Uniform Interstate Depositions and Discovery Act (UIDDA) has been adopted by many states, including California, to simplify the process of serving subpoenas across states. Under the UIDDA, you can present a subpoena duces tecum issued in California to the clerk of the court in the county where you seek discovery. The clerk will then issue a local subpoena for service within that jurisdiction.

Serving a subpoena internationally is more complex and may be governed by international treaties, such as the Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters, otherwise known as the Hague Evidence Convention. If the country is not a signatory to the Hague Evidence Convention, other methods, such as service through foreign diplomatic channels, may be necessary.

Step-by-Step Process for Interstate Subpoena Service

  • Research Jurisdictional Requirements: First, it’s important to understand the legal requirements for serving a subpoena in the non-resident’s home state or country. This may involve researching the other jurisdiction’s rules on service of process. Note that laws regarding subpoena service can vary significantly from one state or country to another. So, always check the specific legal requirements of the jurisdiction where the non-resident is located.
  • Obtain a California Subpoena: Start by obtaining the legal document from the California court where your case is pending.
  • Submit a Request to the Destination State: If the other state has adopted the UIDDA, submit a request to the court in the county where the person resides, along with a copy of the California subpoena. The request should comply with the local court rules and any specific requirements for out-of-state subpoenas.
  • Issuance of a Local Subpoena: The court in the destination state will issue a local subpoena based on the California subpoena.
  • Serve the Subpoena: Follow the destination state’s laws for serving the subpoena. Find out their rules for subpoenas duces tecum, subpoena ad testificandum, and deposition subpoena. This may involve hiring a local process server or using other legally accepted methods of service in that state.
  • Complete Proof of Service: After serving the subpoena, complete any required proof of service documentation according to the destination state’s requirements and return it to the California court.

It’s advisable to consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable about both California law and the laws of the jurisdiction where the subpoena will be served. An attorney can help handle the legal requirements and ensure that the service is performed correctly.

Legal Consequences of Improper Service

Legal Consequences of Improper Service

The consequences of improperly serving a subpoena can be significant and can affect the outcome of legal proceedings. Some potential legal consequences of improper service of a subpoena in California include:

  1. Quashing of the Subpoena Issued: If a subpoena is not served properly, the person subpoenaed may move to quash (nullify) the subpoena. A quashed subpoena means that the court may decide that the subpoena is not legally enforceable due to improper service, effectively canceling the subpoena’s demands.
  2. Delay in Legal Proceedings: If a subpoena is quashed or challenged due to improper service, the party issuing the subpoena may have to re-serve it correctly, causing delays in the case timeline.
  3. Monetary Sanctions: In some cases, the court may impose monetary sanctions on the party responsible for the improper service if the court finds that the improper service was done in bad faith or caused unnecessary expenses for the other party.
  4. Loss of Evidence: If a subpoena is quashed due to improper service and cannot be re-served correctly in time, the requesting party may lose access to critical evidence or testimony. This can weaken a party’s position in legal proceedings or negotiations.
  5. Adverse Inferences or Orders: In certain circumstances, if a party’s failure to properly serve a subpoena results in the loss of evidence, the court may issue unfavorable decisions or orders against that party. For example, the court may assume that the evidence would have been unfavorable to the party who failed to properly serve the subpoena.
  6. Professional Disciplinary Actions: Legal professionals who repeatedly fail to ensure proper service of subpoenas may face disciplinary actions from their professional licensing boards or associations. This can include reprimands, fines, or other penalties.

Serve Your Subpoena The Right Way

Serving a Subpoena improperly can make or break your case depending on the circumstances. This is precisely why it is so vital to make sure you are serving your subpoena the right way. On-Call Legal is the preferred process server for attorneys in California. We’re committed to making the process smooth and compliant for you. We understand how important time is to your case; that’s why we offer same-day delivery to be sure your subpoena gets to the recipient without wasting time. Book a free call with us today to get started.

On-demand legal services with arranging services from eFiling to organizing and preparing your subpoena for records and/or personal appearance and much more.