In the United States of America, the notary public is a public official and state officer who is sworn to duty by virtue of an oath and, thereby, empowered to perform designated official legal acts. The office of the notary public is essential to the smooth running of our legal and administrative operations. The notary public attests to the authentication of a signature on a document, and this attestation is binding by law. Let us look at this history, eligibility requirements and official duties of this respected position.
The history of the position of notary public dates back to ancient Rome when paid public secretaries, called administrative assistants today, helped the high ranking public officials with official matters, such as drafting legal documents or writing letters on behalf of their employer. These documents, when presented to a party, needed to be signed and witnessed by three other people in addition to the secretary. Only then would that document be considered legal evidence. Within a short period of time, the number of these public secretaries grew, to the point where they formed a guild, and the Empire presided over them. Royalty all over ancient Europe started utilizing these “notaries” in order to ensure that documents were drawn and authentically signed.
During the Middle Ages, notaries needed to study and had to pass a test before they were eligible to perform the duties of a notary. When the United States broke away from the motherhood of England and established its own Republic, the same process was kept with regard to the duties and responsibilities of the notary public. The notary public officers in the United States, to this day, are appointed by the state governors or another designated state officer to serve in the position for a given term of years. The notaries still receive their power and authority through the laws of the state in which the oath is consummated.
In the United States, the eligibility requirements are set in the laws adopted by each particular stare with regard to the position of notary public, who is an officer of the state. Most states, however, have adopted similar eligibility requirements as follows:
- The applicant must be at least 18 years of age at the time of the filing of the application.
- The applicant must be a resident of the state of application, or have either an office or a place of business within that state. There is no minimum length of residency requirement in most states. The applicant must present verification of good moral conduct, and notaries are bonded in many states. This is because honesty and integrity are an integral part of a notary’s public duties and responsibilities.
- The applicant must be familiar with the duties and responsibilities of the office of notary public, and must pass a written examination to attest to this knowledge and understanding.
A notary public, once duly recognized and sworn to duty, may have his or her commission rescinded for the reasons as follows:
- A notary public is found to have been guilty of moral turpitude, that is, acts contrary to the values of society and deemed immoral by nature, whether or not the acts have been designated a crime.
- A notary public has been found guilty of a felony.
- A notary public has used, carried or possessed a dangerous weapon.
- A notary public has been found in possession of burglar’s tools, to have possessed criminal property, or to have entered a building unlawfully.
- A notary public has been found to be in possession of or has distributed any narcotic substances.
A convicted felon can receive appointment consideration if the felon has received either a Certificate of Good Conduct from the Parole Board or a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities by the sentencing court.
The functions and duties of the notary public depending on the jurisdiction are as follows:
- Administer oaths and affirmations
- Attest and certify to the authenticity of certain legal documents by virtue of the signature and seal of the notary public, including fingerprinting responsibilities
- Certify acknowledgements, affidavits, depositions and proofs of execution
- Serve as an official state witness as called upon, such as in connection with the forcible opening of bank safe deposit boxes.
As an officer of the state, a notary public can be duly trained and be recognized as a Certified Fingerprinter. There are over five hundred job classifications in the United States at this time that require applicants to be fingerprinted for background checks to determine whether or not the applicant meets the job qualifications. As a Certified Fingerprinter, a notary public will be able to provide fingerprinting service in both black ink with fingerprint card and in live scan fingerprinting. Most customers request the live scan fingerprinting method for their applicants because of the high rejection rate of the fingerprinting with ink results. Additionally, the live scan fingerprinting results can be known within 72 hours of administering the process. A notary public is an excellent choice when a Certified Fingerprinter is needed. Some of the professions that have mandatory background checks are jobs dealing with children, the elderly, the mentally and/or physically sick, legal professions, employment agencies, and financial companies. The demand for fingerprinters increases each year, and each year more and more notaries public are becoming Certified Fingerprinters.
As an officer of the state, the notary public can not be involved in the following activities:
- In capacity a notary public, an individual may not give advice to anyone regarding the law, including the construction of legal documents or any paper deemed by the courts as legal documents
- In capacity as a notary public, an individual may not solicit services for attorneys, nor divide any fees received through the performance of their duties with an attorney