LEGAL PROCESS SERVERS VS SHERIFFS: ROLES POWERS AND DIFFERENCES

This article will provide guidance on legal process servers vs sheriffs: Roles, Powers, and Differences.  The relationship between a sheriff and a process server is important in various legal systems. Although both individuals are important in the administration of justice, their roles, powers, and approaches are different. The divide between a sheriff and a process server highlights the complex legal procedures and law enforcement mechanisms across the states.  Please click here to watch the video on process service.

A sheriff is a law enforcement officer with additional responsibilities beyond delivering legal documents. The sheriff’s role is based on English common law and involves maintaining order, upholding the law, and protecting citizens in a specific jurisdiction. Sheriffs have broad law enforcement powers, such as making arrests, enforcing court orders, and overseeing county facilities. Their duties encompass the enforcement of criminal laws, administration of public safety, and involvement in civil matters, among other responsibilities.

A process server delivers legal documents like summonses, subpoenas, and complaints to parties involved in legal proceedings. This function is crucial for due process as it guarantees notification and the chance to respond to legal actions for all parties involved. Process servers are impartial third parties who deliver legal documents in accordance with legal protocols. Their role is crucial in maintaining the integrity of the legal system and ensuring equal access to justice.

The difference between a sheriff and a process server highlights the division between law enforcement and legal support roles in the judicial system. Sheriffs focus on law enforcement and public safety, while process servers specialize in delivering legal notices and documents accurately and impartially. Sheriffs and process servers play crucial roles in the evolving legal and law enforcement environments, ensuring the effective running of the justice system.

So, Who is the sheriff?

A sheriff is the superintendent of law enforcement for a county in the United States. Sheriffs are typically appointed by an elected body or elected by the populace. County-by-county, the duties of sheriffs and their agencies differ significantly. Sheriff’s offices typically oversee jails and prisons, courthouse and county facility security, protection of justices and juries, prevention of disturbances of the peace, and coordination with municipal police. Additionally, sheriff’s offices may be liable for the protection of public areas and events.

Typically, an ordinary officer of a sheriff’s office is referred to as a deputy sheriff, sheriff’s deputy, or simply a deputy. In a modest sheriff’s office, the sheriff supervises the deputies directly. Similar to police departments, large sheriff’s offices have different positions. There are thousands of routine deputies in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who are eight ranks below the sheriff. Typically, the sheriff’s effective second-in-command bears the title of assistant sheriff or undersheriff. 

Forty eight jurisdictions in the United jurisdictions have sheriffs. Alaska lacks municipalities, and Connecticut, which supplanted its county sheriff system with state and judicial marshals in 2000, are the two exceptions. Neither the District of Columbia nor the five territories have sheriffs, being federal districts.

Duties of a Sheriff

The function of a sheriff’s office differs significantly from state to state and even county to county. Sheriffs and their deputies are sworn peace officers with the authority to make arrests and serve them before a magistrate or judge, serve arrest warrants or orders of arrest, and issue tickets or citations to maintain order. Some states extend this power to neighboring counties or the entire state. 

In the United States, sheriffs generally fall into three categories, being [A.] restricted service; [B.] limited service, and [C.] full service. Restricted service provides fundamental court-related duties, such as maintaining the county jail, transporting inmates, securing the courthouse, and other responsibilities relating to the service of process and summonses issued by county and state courts. In many jurisdictions, the sheriff also conducts public auctions of foreclosed real estate and is frequently authorized to seize personal property to satisfy a judgment. In other jurisdictions, marshals and sheriffs carry out these civil process duties.

With regard to limited service, sheriff’s offices perform traditional law enforcement duties such as investigations and patrol. This may be limited to the performance of security police duties on county properties (and others by contract) in unincorporated areas of the county and certain incorporated areas by contract. However, under full service — the most prevalent type —  the office provides all traditional law enforcement functions, such as countywide patrol and investigations, regardless of municipal boundaries.

The United States Marshals Service, an agency of the Department of Justice, is the first federal successor to the sheriff. The U.S. Marshal and their Deputy Marshals are responsible for the transportation of detainees, the security of U.S. district courts, and the issuance and execution of certain civil processes.

Who is a Process server and What do They do?

A process server delivers legal documents to parties in a litigation or other legal proceeding. Typically, process servers are independent contractors and not court employees. They may be individuals or businesses. Attorneys retain process servers to deliver and serve documents to other attorneys, defendants, witnesses, and third parties in civil cases. Our team at Undisputed Legal works with attorneys, courts, law enforcement, government agencies, and some business clients, among others.

A process server’s primary responsibility is to deliver legal documents to the intended recipient. In most instances, the process server has the individual’s residence or place of employment and can hand-deliver the documents. A process server will typically identify themselves and inform the recipient that they receiving legal documents. Some individuals are aware that the process server is attempting to deliver legal documents to them, so they evade service. Occasionally, process servers stake out locations where they anticipate their targets to be in order to attempt service of process. 

Some states permit process servers to deliver documents by mail if they are unable to locate the intended recipient after three visits or thirty days. In the majority of instances, the documents must be sent via certified or registered mail, and the signature of the named individual or an adult family member at the residence completes the service of process. 

How Fast Can service be done by a Process server vs a Sheriff

Understanding the distinction between a sheriff and a process server is essential. The significant difference between the two entities is their mobility. Both the process server and sheriff may visit a residence, place of business, or other location. However, a sheriff has the legal authority to enter areas that would normally be off-limits to process servers.

Based on the court’s discretion, a process server will provide delivery by hand, by mail, notice, and digital communication. However, since the sheriff is an officer of the law, they are permitted to enter properties with posted no encroachment signs and other restricted areas where process servers are not permitted.

The sheriff is a sworn court officer who can serve legal documents to anyone. A sheriff can also serve documents to individuals who are not at their residence (e.g., in prison, at an office, etc.). The same is true for a process server, with the exception of restricted property. A sheriff is introduced for a variety of purposes. Sometimes, involving a sheriff to serve papers is necessary because the process poses a physical risk or because the person being served has a history of hostility.

What if speedy service is required? Then, process servers may be the solution. Process servers are efficient and adaptable; they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have discretion when delivering legal documents at night or on the weekend. Process servers prioritize accomplishing their tasks as quickly as feasible. Undisputed Legal offers service 24/7 (where legally required) and frequently makes the first attempt on the same day or within the first 24 hours.

In contrast to the sheriff, process servers are typically more accommodating and can work around our clients’ schedules. At Undisputed Legal, our clients may be able to schedule an interview at a convenient time, whereas deputies are required to work set hours that are much more narrow. Additionally, a sheriff’s office may be closed on weekends and holidays. This allows process servers to serve our clients’ documents even if we receive them when the agency is closed or no one is present. 

Knowledge and accountability: The sheriff v/s the process server

Process servers are more likely to share information with the client, the recipient, the sheriff, and the court. The role of a process server is to deliver legal documents promptly and with expert attention to detail. Process servers are trained and experienced professionals, ensuring that knowledgeable professionals will handle any important case with care.

A process server is familiar with the applicable laws, how they apply, and all legal information regarding the service of process. This is very different for a process server compared to a sheriff, who must also comprehend the laws regarding narcotics, violence, property ownership, and automobiles, among other topics. Compared to the specialized tasks of a process server, this is an enormous amount of information to recall. 

Sheriff’s deputies are responsible for an entire county, and they are responsible for upholding the law. However, when it comes to the nuances of civil process service, which seem to be ever-changing as new legislation is introduced every year across the US, sheriff’s deputies may not always be apprised of the minor changes. For example, there may be minor changes to how paperwork is filed, what days service of process can be served, where it can be served (gated communities, prisons, etc.), and more. While, for the most part, sheriff’s departments should be knowledgeable of these rules, they may not be on top of changes as quickly as those who dedicate their livelihood to the work of civil process service. 

Additionally, it is often difficult to ensure that papers are adequately served within the timeframe that you need with the sheriff. In fact, whether the sheriff’s office works on weekends is dependent upon the jurisdiction. Unless there is a specific court order, service is typically not conducted on Sundays in Texas and the Houston area, for example. It is essential to keep in mind that a Sheriff’s office may have fewer personnel available on weekends and holidays due to increased crime or vacations. This is another reason why you should hire a process server team. In the majority of instances, service will be requested within one to twenty days of the date of issuance. Click Here for Frequently Asked Questions About Process Servers!

What if the defendant is evasive?

If a party to a case cannot be located at the address listed on the documents, your case may experience significant delays. Sheriff’s departments are unable to locate individuals for service due to a lack of time and resources. If so, the magistrate may return the documents to the court as undeliverable. This could result in the judge dismissing the case or granting alternative service.

However, a private process server has a vast array of resources and tools for locating absent individuals for service of process. They can use a variety of techniques, such as social media investigations and private investigators, to locate absent individuals and serve them in a timely manner.

The success rate is also a crucial consideration when deciding whether or not to hire a process server. A process server’s success rate is the proportion of times they effectively convey the clients’ court documents. A sheriff’s office is more concerned with attempts than with success. However, process servers like those at Undisputed Legal will gladly discuss their success rates, as customers consider this a major factor when deciding between businesses.

Good customer service is the backbone of a process server’s livelihood. Private civil process servers know that their livelihood depends on effectuating service properly and expeditiously. At Undisputed Legal, we often go above and beyond to get the job done, which most clients cannot ask of a sheriff. For example, if a client knows an individual will be at a specific place and time, a process server may be able to accommodate that request, whereas the sheriff will not. Additionally, the sheriff’s office may require the client to do more of the legwork (making sure that there are enough copies, filing the affidavits, etc.), whereas a private process server will usually take care of these things without complaint.

Cost

Typically, the cost of hiring a private process server and the fee levied by the sheriff’s office are comparable. While a private process server may require marginally higher fees, the ease and effectiveness that may be assured via a private process server should be considered.  The cost is typically comparable, but the value varies significantly. Because customer service is the sole responsibility of the team clients employ as a process server, any consumer will surely receive significantly higher quality service.

There are significant distinctions between process servers and sheriffs. In certain instances, the responsibilities have merged. Process servers can offer more options for having any documents served. Working with a process server team will provide quicker, more detailed service with active communication to demonstrate timely delivery to the correct target party.

Sheriffs and private process servers must adhere to the same standards when serving legal documents. The only true distinction is that the sheriff can access properties that private process servers may not. Private process servers are not law enforcement officers. Therefore, they cannot enter private property if there are posted encroachment signs. 

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New York: (212) 203-8001 – 590 Madison Avenue, 21st Floor, New York, New York 10022
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New Jersey: (201) 630-0114 – 101 Hudson Street, 21 Floor, Jersey City, New Jersey 07302
Washington DC: (202) 655-4450 – 1101 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Suite 300, Washington DC 20004

FOR ASSISTANCE SERVING LEGAL PAPERS

Pick up the phone and call Toll Free (800) 774-6922, or click the service you want to purchase. Our dedicated team of professionals is ready to assist you. We can handle all your New York City process service needs; no job is too small or too large!

Contact us for more information about our process-serving agency. We are ready to provide New York City service of process to all our clients globally from our offices in New York, Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C.

“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives”– Foster, William A

Sources

1. In some jurisdictions, the undersheriff also serves as the jail’s superintendent.

2. ‘FAQ.’ FAQ | NATIONAL SHERIFFS’ ASSOCIATION, www.sheriffs.org/about-nsa/faq.. 

3. ‘Office of Sheriff.’ Office of Sheriff | NATIONAL SHERIFFS’ ASSOCIATION, www.sheriffs.org/about-nsa/history/roots. Accessed 25th Aug. 2023. 

4. 28 U.S. Code § 564 – Powers as sheriff

5. One United States Marshal serves each federal judicial district, for a total of 94.

6. The other is the Marshal of the United States Supreme Court, who is responsible for all court-related duties for the United States Supreme Court

7. When they are ‘clocked in’ to a sheriff’s duty, they can reach the target party at any time of day, rather than during specific time windows.

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