Being served with a lawsuit by a sheriff at home or at work is a jarring experience, particularly when the front pages warns that if you do not take action within thirty days or so judgment by default may be taken against you for the damages and/or request for relief articulated in the lawsuit.
With respect to a civil lawsuit in which you are named as a defendant, you generally have thirty days to file an Answer and/or responsive motion to the Petition. It is not always thirty days, though. Depending on the type of case that has been filed and the Court, it could be more or less than thirty days. For instance, if a plaintiff files a request for a temporary restraining order, the plaintiff need only give you 24 hours notice after service to schedule a hearing. It is imperative that you respond to any civil suit appropriately to avoid a default judgment. You should also discuss with legal counsel the possibility of any legal defenses which can thwart the lawsuit, or even whether a valid counterclaim can be brought to put the plaintiff(s) on the defensive.
The criminal process follows a decidedly different path. In criminal cases, you are either issued a citation/summons which requires that you appear in court on a certain day and time to address the charges — or, in severe cases, you are arrested and taken into custody. Rather than filing an answer or responsive motion to the lawsuit, you can be subjected to an arraignment, bond hearing, and/or preliminary hearing. This all depends on the nature of the charges and the specific government entity pressing charges.
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