The history of process serving in the United States begins with the fifth and sixth amendments to the Constitution. The fifth amendment reads, in part: “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The sixth: “In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall … be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation.” The two amendments, as a part of the Bill of Rights, guarantee important inalienable rights now enjoyed by Americans.
Previous to the revolution against British rule, Americans were subject to a number of rights violations, including arbitrary imprisonment at the whim of courts and local law enforcement agencies. When it came to formulating the Constitution, public concern over this unwarranted abridgment to a right people felt entitled to led to the inclusion of the two amendments. Henceforth, anyone accused of a crime in the United States would, by law, receive notification of a court’s intent prior to being brought to trial.
Originally, the notification came to the accused by way of the county sheriff. This soon became an impossible burden for sheriffs whose jurisdiction included one of the mushrooming cities appearing across the American landscape. This resulted in the advent of the process server. The term refers to the legal definition of the procedure: service of process. The practice of relying on a process server arose out of a need for deliverance of the notifications and legal documents in a timely manner as proscribed in the sixth amendment: “… the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial …” In addition, both the courts and individual citizens preferred the hands-on method of delivery as opposed to notification by mail.
The notification might include, in addition to the formal charges against the one being served, such official papers as subpoenas, writs, summonses and other legal documents deemed by the issuing authority as important to the situation in hand. Appropriate delivery of these legal documents by the process server is considered so important that in some cases a failure of proper service might cause the residing judge to throw the entire legal action out of court. After serving the papers successfully, the process server will sign and deliver to the issuing authority a notarized proof or affidavit of service.
Specific rules by which a process server carries out his or her duties varies from state to state. The basic requirements, however, must adhere to the premise laid down by the fifth and sixth amendments.