What Happens if You Lie to a Sheriff Who Is Trying to Serve You?

By Tom Streissguth

When a plaintiff files a civil lawsuit, he must prepare a Summons to the defendant. The Summons officially and legally notifies a defendant that's he's been sued, and he has a limited period of time in which to file an Answer to the suit. This deadline begins from the date of service -- when the Summons is personally delivered to the defendant. Attempting to evade this "service of process" by hiding, running away or lying to the individual trying to carry out service won't work. However, lying to either a private process server or law enforcement official is not necessarily a crime.

The Service Task

Process servers deliver lawsuit filings, summonses, subpoenas and other legal documents that require certified, personal delivery. Private process servers are licensed to carry out this task for attorneys and the courts. Sheriff departments also serve papers. The party requesting service pays a fee to the server; the individual to be served, often along with his address, is printed on the Summons. The process server delivers the paperwork and completes a return of service that notes the date, time and place the service was carried out.

Up Close and Personal

Personal service means the server must verify the identify of the individual before handing over the paper. If you are the sole defendant in a lawsuit, for example, the Summons must be delivered to you, in person, and to nobody else. Whether he's in law enforcement or working privately, a process server will always ask you to confirm your name before delivering the paperwork. In some cases, an attorney, representative or registered agent will agree to accept service on behalf of the party being served.

Optional Methods

If you lie to the process server or otherwise attempt to evade service, the party requesting service has options. State laws, which govern service of process, require only a good faith effort. If a process server fails to carry out personal service, his client may be able to send the papers to your last known address via certified mail, which provides proof of delivery date and time. Many states also permit service "by publication," meaning the Summons is printed in a public newspaper or posted in the courthouse. In the case of a lawsuit, the date of publication starts the deadline for the filing of an answer, even if the defendant did not personally receive the Summons and lawsuit.

False Statements and Service

Lying to a police officer to avoid service of process is not by itself a crime; and while evading service of process by any means may be futile, it is not a criminal act. You are generally not legally required to speak to a police officer at any time, but making false statements or misrepresentations in the course of a criminal investigation is, in many states, a crime. The state of Florida, for example, prosecutes this as a "false report." In any situation, the police need "probable cause" to believe criminal activity has taken place in order to conduct searches or demand responses to questions; delivery of legal paperwork, including a Summons, would not generally qualify.

About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article