Editor’s note: This article was researched and written by ServeNow staff and may not include the most up-to-date information on the status of specific legislation in individual states.
Work can be worrisome for many reasons, but process servers have to consider their physical well being on top of their jobs every time they set out to serve papers. Assault on process servers is a common occurrence and there are laws that protect them, however, sometimes these laws are not enough. In our recent poll on the biggest challenges in the process serving industry, some voters listed increased assault as the biggest industry threat. But even though it did not receive the most votes it’s still an important issue to pay attention to, and certain states are beginning to take things a step further and are make assault on a process server a felony.
What is assault?
Assault occurs when someone is intentionally placed under the threat of bodily injury by another person. If the offender actually injures the person they are threatening, they have committed assault and battery.
How does assault affect process servers?
When a process server sets out to do their job, they are placing themselves in an emotionally charged situation. The person being served may be in an unstable mental and emotional state. When someone is presented with papers it could be a breaking point, and they may become violent. Process servers are representatives of the court and many feel that because of this there should be stricter consequences for individuals who attempt to stop them from completing their work or hurt them while they are doing their jobs.
Instances of process server assault
Stories about process servers being assaulted while on the job have become more prevalent in the news. Reports of process servers being punched, hit with baseball bats and even shot are not as uncommon as they used to be.
Recently, an Auburn process server was assaulted when trying to serve eviction papers. The offender shot Kathy Stevenson with an airsoft gun, threw rocks at her, broke her car window and smeared mud in her face. The perpetrator was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and vandalism and is currently out on a $25,000 bond.
Earlier this year the Mayor of Mendenhall was charged with assault on a process server. Mayor Womack claims that he was unaware that the person knocking on his door was a process server and feared for the safety of his family. The process server claims the Mayor swore at him and assaulted him, even after he made his purpose clear. Mayor Mendenhall was found guilty of simple assault, a misdemeanor, and forced to pay a $485 fine.
Also this year, an Illinois state lawyer, Allen W. James plead guilty to a misdemeanor aggravated assault for pulling a gun on a process server in the parking lot of a courthouse in 2008. James claims he was defending himself, however, the court found that he had been evading service for a personal lawsuit the day before and most likely pulled out his gun in an attempt to further avoid service. James was initially charged with two felonies but was only found guilty of a misdemeanor. He was forced to pay a $1,500 fine and was suspended from work for 60 days. James was not reelected to his position and no longer works for the state of Illinois.
With assault on the rise and stories like this continually hitting the news, it is apparent that process servers need protection now more then ever.
What laws are currently in place protecting process servers?
Many states have laws protecting process servers from assault, but there has been a recent push to make assault on a process server a felony, not just a misdemeanor. In late 2011, Illinois became the first state to pass legislation making assault on a process server a felony charge. Senator Mike Jacobs of Illinois stated that “We have increased the assault penalties over the years for those people who work on behalf of the State Government and law enforcement, and this legislation will extend these protections for those who work on behalf of the courts.”
“We brought that legislation to the Illinois State Congress because we know that process servers are getting attacked out there and it’s not being reported,” Illinois Association of Professional Process Servers (IAPS) Treasurer Keith McMaster explained, “hopefully this is an event that we can take to all the associations and NAPPS can, in the future, take this legislation to the states that don’t have an association.” Since the passing of the Illinois law, California has enacted a similar law and Washington has proposed one as well. New York has presented bills to the legislature making assault on a process server a class D felony. Larry Yellon, president of the New York State Professional Process Servers Association, is hopeful that the bills will be signed into law and assist other states in enacting similar laws. Process servers are applauding these states and hoping to see similar legislation passed across the country. Other associations have added pushing for assault legislation to their goals.
Why is it important for process servers to be protected from assault?
Process servers perform a task that is integral to the court’s functionality. Senator Jacobs hopes that the new Illinois law “might be the deterrent necessary to keep process servers safe while they perform their duties.” As representatives of the court, many process servers feel that they are entitled to the same protection as other workers involved in the legal process. In any case, with the heightened emotions that come with serving process and the situations that can arise, it’s important for process servers to be protected from assault.
How can you help process servers become protected?
By joining your local association or a national association such as the National Association of Professional Process Servers (NAPPS), you can combine forces with other process servers and raise awareness regarding the issues that affect your industry. With backing and support from associations, legislation protecting process servers will more easily become law. Get in touch with your local association to find out more on what you can do to help.
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