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What Would You Do: The Case Of The Prisoner’s Signature

What would you do if asked to notarize for a person who is in jail?

The NNA Hotline receives hundreds of calls daily from Notaries nationwide who find themselves in challenging situations. To boost your knowledge of Notary best practices, we’ve created a series of scenarios based on actual situations and ask a simple question: What would you do? 

It’s an unusually calm morning when you receive a call from a distraught sounding man in need of an emergency notarization. Only, he’s not the signer — it’s his ex-wife. And she’s in prison.

“My ex-wife was arrested and has been convicted. She’s now being held without bail,” he explains. “I need to get paperwork notarized from her right away, so I can take over custody of our three children.”

The prison at which his ex-wife is being held is a short distance outside of town, and the man agrees to pay for any traveling fees associated with the drive.

You’ve performed a lot of notarizations in a lot of different scenarios, but never under these circumstances. So, the question is…

What would you do?
 

Do you agree to perform the notarization, and, if so, what are some of the issues you should consider ahead of time, and how should you proceed?

To participate in this week’s “What Would You Do?” scenario, share your answer with the NNA Facebook Community. We may mention your response in next week’s Bulletin, when we offer the best possible answer(s) to this notarial challenge.

Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association.

33 Comments

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Verne Gordon

12 Jun 2015

I have periodically performed notarizations here in CA for the local jail. I always ask the person requesting the notarization if the incarcerated person has the correct identification (DMV / passport/ or an inmate identification card) beforehand. The inmate is always behind a locked window or gate and I perform the notarization in a normal manner. I have never had any problems doing so in this manner. Basically, I act in the same manner as I would for any client except for the fact that this client is in a jail.

Chris

15 Jun 2015

ID will be the number 1 issue. Long wait time at jail will also be a factor.

Cheryl Bumgarner

15 Jun 2015

My first question I would have to ask myself would be how am I going to have proof of who she is saying she is. In jail you have no identification. She could be his friend and just trying to get custody of the kids away from his wife.

Carolyn Culbert

15 Jun 2015

This depends on the facility and its regulations. Steps to consider are: 1. Does the facility require you to be on the approved and requested visitor list for that inmate? If so it will be several weeks before you can enter the facility? It may require a special court order or assistance from DFS/DHS. 2. Does state law require the inmates attorney to be present and if so who is paying the attorney? 3. What are the visitor hours and regulations of the facility? 4. Does Department of Family Services need to be involved or the case worker assigned to this inmate? 5. Be sure to check the inmates status before traveling to the facility? If custody has issues with the inmate they may not be allowed to have visitors or if there is a "custody event" at the facility, it may be in lock down and no visitors will be allowed. 6. Be sure to check identification issues. The inmate will not have "normal" documentation. It would be necessary that a DOC ID would be valid as documentation for the signing or you may be required to have witnesses from the DOC staff as to the identity of the inmate. **This seems like an unusual situation anyway because due to the incarceration of the custodial parent, normally it is DFS/DHS that places the children and the NOT at the discretion of the incarcerated parent. **

Richard Nichols

15 Jun 2015

My experience as a criminal defense attorney, having visited many prisons on business, I have found the officials in the prisons are very easy to work with to accommodate the needs of those that have an official reasons to visit inmates . I would not hesitate to go it were a client or close friend.

John Bianca

15 Jun 2015

Handle it like any other assignment with the following exceptions: If it is a county jail call the jail administrator, explain what you need to do any why. Make sure you can have a copy of the subject booking sheet if you need identification copies to be sent along with the package. It it is a state prison It is going to be harder to do. You will have to contact the facility, explain what you need to do and why. They will schedule a date and time, but they are in no hurry. In the mean time the facility is checking you thought its state computer system and NCIC. once everything clears they will contact you with the date and time. Planning at being at both institutions for about 3 times your normal time to allow for search of your self and your case. You will be taken to a room that the signing will occur at and complete your assignment as requested. I usually double my fee for a standard jail signing, and triple it for Prison. It will take a lot of time, and your in with not do good people. Payment is usually handled in jail by a check drawn against the inmates account. Normally I get it as soon as finished. Prison wary, you might get right there, or have to wait 30 days for the amount to transfer. I was a Senior Law Enforcement Officer for 35 years prior to becoming a NNA Certified Signing Agent. so Ive been there, and know how it goes.

Dan

15 Jun 2015

I would refer to him to a family law attorney.

Scott Cameron

15 Jun 2015

I would explain to them that I have a minimum fee of $50.00 and that would cover up to 1 hour worth of travel/signing time. Every half hour after that would be $50.00 and cash only.....

Mark Weisberg

15 Jun 2015

As a Constable and a mobile notary I have served papers to and notarized papers for prisoners inside the walls of many different prisons and jails. It does take some extra steps in planning, including calling the facility in advance to find out their specific requirements, but it's not that much different than any other assignment. Remember that it will take much more time than a regular signing and that things can change rapidly if something happens while you are there.

Susan Kehoe-Sutphin

15 Jun 2015

I would but I would need to know the prison's procedures in order to it. Is it being done thru the prisoner's attorney, etc?

Charyl Murray

15 Jun 2015

I would if the prison allowed it. I would first call the prison to see if it is appropriate and doable. Secondly, if allowed, the inmate must have ID. I would have to check with my state to see it a prison ID is acceptable since I am sure they don't have DL's while in prison. If not, then I would think 2 acceptable witnesses who can vouch for the person's identity - perhaps a Warden and guard. I am sure it must be something that is done at any state prison. Thirdly, I would additionally ask my state if this type of document is okay to notarize. Would hate for someone to come back and say they were under duress, or being forced to sign...even if I asked if they were of sound mind! The more I think about it, the more tricky it seems to become.

Dominic

15 Jun 2015

As a criminal defense investigator and notary, I have performed several notary acts in jails and prisons. Having the correct ID and/or verified identification/witness is mandatory and, thumb print in my notary log.

Joseph Reeves

15 Jun 2015

I have entered prisons before (not as a resident!) so I'm familiar with the very strict security guidelines enforced on anyone wanting to enter/visit. First I'd call the facility to explain who I am and the reason for my visit and get guidance on what special arrangements need to be made to permit me to enter with the tools I need to perform my job. I'd also make contact with the ex-husband to verify that he is in possession of valid non-expired ID for the ex-wife, or otherwise find out how ID will be available for the signer. Also, because of the unusual circumstances, full payment will need to be made in advance, so that in the event I arrive and the ID is no good, the prison is on lock-down, etc., I don't forfeit my travel fee.

Joseph Reeves

15 Jun 2015

I have entered prisons before (not as a resident!) so I'm familiar with the very strict security guidelines enforced on anyone wanting to enter/visit. First I'd call the facility to explain who I am and the reason for my visit and get guidance on what special arrangements need to be made to permit me to enter with the tools I need to perform my job. I'd also make contact with the ex-husband to verify that he is in possession of valid non-expired ID for the ex-wife, or otherwise find out how ID will be available for the signer. Also, because of the unusual circumstances, full payment will need to be made in advance, so that in the event I arrive and the ID is no good, the prison is on lock-down, etc., I don't forfeit my travel fee.

Michael E Harris, CNSA

15 Jun 2015

I would negotiate a fee for the travel and a fee for the time involved with getting into a jail or prison. I know a few notaries who routinely visit prisons for notarizations; they do not find any real problems as prisoners often need notarized documents for appeals.

Jay

15 Jun 2015

I have notarized in a maximum security prison, but I am also an attorney as well as a notary which helped me gain access to the prison. The prison had its own notary but agreed to let me do the signing. It was home loan docs to re-fi a house. The wife had already signed. I needed the husband to sign. All parties were aware in advance the husband was in prison. There are special rules which may vary from prison to prison. First, the prison determines if the inmate can sign any legal docs. They may want to review the docs. The inmate must put you on his list of contacts and also agree to meet with you and sign the docs. The prison controls everything. They decide the time of signing. If there is a problem in the prison, such as a lock down, then the signing is off. We did it in a secure room. A prison employee was present. They provided the pen. I could not give the inmate a pen. I had to remove all paperclips from the papers before they were handed to the inmate. Staples were okay. We did it across a conference room table. I could hand the inmate the papers but was not allowed to touch the inmate. I had to keep my hands above the surface of the table where they could be seen at all times. It is do-able but bear in mind that the prison will be in full control and will have their own rules which you must honor. You need to start preparing in advance to conduct a notarization in prison.

Carrie Perez

15 Jun 2015

The first thing would be to contact the prison to see if there is a notary on staff. If so, have the husband contact the prison and make arrangements for the notary to done. If no notary is on staff, the outside notary would need to receive clearance from the prison to meet with the inmate, then schedule a date and time to facilitate the notarial act. The husband should insure the wife has the required paperwork he wishes to be signed and the inmate has the money on her account for the notary fee.

Sheila

15 Jun 2015

I believe the lady can do it but she needs to take the lady's husband with her and notify the prison in advance.

ebtutman@tutman.com

15 Jun 2015

I am not a FaceBook user. I am a newly commissioned Notary and would like to view the responses of the seasoned notaries. I have ideas on how to go about this: protocol to visit prisoners, ID requirement/prisoner's access to her documents, determine in advance if ex-wife is willing to sign custody documents, for example. If she is not wiling, case closed for me as the notary.

Linda

15 Jun 2015

I definitely would contact you for advice!!!

Rachel Smith

15 Jun 2015

I have done several notarizations from prisoners, both in federal custody and state custody. I contact the prison to let them know in advance -- generally the person's case manager or someone in charge. In California we need to use the persons prison ID with photograph for identity proof. I have not done a notarization in a county lock-up, but I believe it would be the same process. I found my clients to be very appreciative and nice.

RUTH E WEISMAN

15 Jun 2015

I WOULD ASK IF THE PRISSON WHERE THE PERSON IS AT ACCEPTS FOR A NOTARY TO COME IN AND SECOND WHAT I.D. DOES THE PARTY HAVE BEFORE GOING FURTHER

Jennifer

15 Jun 2015

Depending on the jail, it might not happen. Where I live, in the county and state prisons they require any visitor to be authorized and have a background check performed prior to entering the facility. The background checks can take 2 weeks to 3 months. In the holding facilities, however, anyone can visit. I'm not sure if legal matters such as a notarization are exceptions though.

Stephanie giovanniello

15 Jun 2015

This a tough one. I don't think I would do it unless her lawyer is also present.

Angela Burton

15 Jun 2015

I would not. Would let lawyer handle it

Nancy Larkin

15 Jun 2015

Ascertain just what the document is and what type of a notarization is needed. Ask all the practical questions like, once I get there, will I be allowed to meet with the ex-wife? Does she want to sign the document? Does she have valid photo ID needed for the notarization? And is there a notary at the prison, who might be on site and available?? If everything is in order -- a big if, and I'd want to check with the warden's office before leaving home! -- then there seems so reason not to. But I suspect the practical difficulties are tremendous, in real life.

Lisa

16 Jun 2015

You need to contact the prison to not only verify that she is being held there but that you can enter to do a notarization on her behalf. Prisons have strict guidelines on what and who can enter so be certain to get all the information before you drive out there.

Mark Ballman

16 Jun 2015

I think I would go and listen to what the wife has to say. That's even if I could be granted access to the lady. Seems like there is more to consider than just what the husband and wife are saying because of the welfare of the children to consider. But then again, I'm not a judge and jury. I have very little experience and would be glad to hear what I should really do.

Janice Peck

27 Jun 2015

Do not quote a fixed fee, but an hourly rate for travel you're willing to accept. Every jail notarization I have done has meant a one-hour wait to see the prisoner. One time after the hour wait, they told me that he had been moved to another facility. In California, most prison IDs are not good for notarization. Be sure you clarify this before you go. A relative may need to provide the ID as the inmate will not have it with him/her. Or, you may need the one requesting you to do the notarization for the prisoner to call and set up two credible witnesses to meet you there. I have encountered burly guards and burly signers, so my travel fee is much higher in jails/prisons than for one document in the comfort of a home.

Janice Peck

27 Jun 2015

Do not quote a fixed fee, but an hourly rate for travel you're willing to accept. Every jail notarization I have done has meant a one-hour wait to see the prisoner. One time after the hour wait, they told me that he had been moved to another facility. In California, most prison IDs are not good for notarization. Be sure you clarify this before you go. A relative may need to provide the ID as the inmate will not have it with him/her. Or, you may need the one requesting you to do the notarization for the prisoner to call and set up two credible witnesses to meet you there. I have encountered burly guards and burly signers, so my travel fee is much higher in jails/prisons than for one document in the comfort of a home.

Neil Kleeger

13 Dec 2016

Use the booking # id bracelet

Terri Shannon

28 Jun 2018

I guess I am a bit concerned- If a person is incarcerated for embezzlement or fraudulent activities do I want to take on the liability of furthering that behavior? If this has been an ICE raid can I truely make a positive Identification?- even if shown a seemingly valid ID? If Human Trafficking or Abuse against minors is involved in a developing case could I be inadvertently aiding or abiding? I would never know enough answers to feel comfortable and would refer them to their Lawyer- who would hopefully have enough information to determine what is appropriate. I would always keep the question in mind - why isn’t their Attorney doing it in the first place.

Joe

09 Apr 2019

Most facilities have whats called "face sheets" it a booking sheet showing positive identification based on electronic fingerprint comparisons with the FBI database. The sheet has a full picture, dob, ss#, and place of birth. If it's an inmate that has never been in trouble before and has no fingerprint comparisons in the FBI database yet, you can request thier state id from their property.

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