Why You Can't Ignore a Subpoena: The Legal Importance Explained

Why You Can't Ignore a Subpoena: The Legal Importance Explained

Receiving a legal order can be stressful. A subpoena is one such order, commanding the recipient to provide evidence or testify in court. This article will guide you through understanding and complying with subpoenas, ensuring you're prepared for what lies ahead.

Key Takeaways

  • A subpoena is a court order to give evidence or testify. There are two kinds: one for bringing documents and another for speaking in court.
  • If you ignore a subpoena, you could face fines or go to jail. This is because it's important for the courts to get all the information they need.
  • Sometimes, if you think a subpoena is not fair, you can challenge it in court. You might say it asks for too much or something private.
  • Subpoenas and summons are different. A subpoena asks for evidence or testimony, while a summons tells someone to come to court for their trial.
  • It's very important to follow what a subpoena says. This helps make sure that everyone has the facts they need in legal cases.


Understanding Subpoenas

Subpoenas are court-ordered requests for individuals to produce documents or testify in legal proceedings. There are different types of subpoenas, each serving specific purposes and carrying legal obligations.

Definition and Purpose of a Subpoena

A subpoena is a court order that demands a person or business to give testimony or share documents in a legal case. Courts use subpoenas to gather evidence vital for trials or hearings.

There are two main kinds: subpoena duces tecum and subpoena ad testificandum. The first type asks for papers, books, records, or other materials. The second type requires someone to speak at a trial or deposition.

Subpoenas play a key role in the discovery process of both criminal procedures and civil cases. They ensure all needed information comes out before the court makes decisions. Ignoring a subpoena can lead to serious penalties like fines, jail time, or both because it disrupts this process.

This tool helps lawyers prepare their cases by showing facts through witnesses' words or collected items which might prove critical points during trials.

Different Types of Subpoenas

Subpoenas play a vital role in the legal system. They order people to share information important for cases. Here are the main kinds:


  1. Subpoena Duces Tecum - This type requires you to bring documents, records, or items to court or a legal proceeding. For example, banks might need to provide financial records, and doctors might have to share medical records.
  2. Subpoena ad Testificandum - It orders someone to speak in court. Witnesses use their words to help the court understand what happened.


Both types are tools for finding truth in cases. Each has its use depending on what a case needs – words or paperwork.

Next, let's discuss who can issue these orders and how they do it.

Issuing a Subpoena

When someone has to provide proof, a subpoena is issued. They are usually triggered during legal proceedings and can take different forms. A court or an attorney can issue the document through various legal channels.

Who Can Issue a Subpoena

Judges, magistrates, lawyers, clerical workers of the court, and administrative bodies have the power to issue a subpoena. This means they can legally ask someone to show up in court or give out documents.

The President can also issue one for military matters. They all follow clear rules, especially when asking for records on students, employees, or consumers. These rules make sure the person whose records are being asked for knows about it first and gets enough time to respond.

The Process of Serving a Subpoena

Serving a subpoena involves delivering it to the person or entity it commands to take specific actions in a legal case.


  1. Identify the Person or Entity: The process server must first correctly identify the person or entity named in the subpoena.
  2. Personal Service: The server delivers the subpoena directly to the individual or representative of the entity, ensuring it is received and understood.
  3. Substituted Service: If personal service is not possible, the server may leave the subpoena with someone at the recipient's home or office who is of suitable age and discretion.
  4. Service by Mail: In cases where personal service is not viable, the server can send the subpoena via certified mail with return receipt requested.
  5. Record Keeping: After serving the subpoena, the server completes an affidavit of service detailing how and when it was delivered.


Remember, proper service ensures that all parties have notice of their obligations in legal proceedings.

Compliance with Subpoenas

When it comes to complying with subpoenas, every individual has personal responsibilities. Compliance includes providing the requested documents or testifying in court when issued a subpoena.

It's important to understand how to comply with a subpoena and the legal repercussions of failing to do so.

Personal Responsibilities

You must comply with a subpoena if you receive one. The responsibility falls on you to adhere to the instructions given in the subpoena and provide any requested documents or information.

This is crucial in ensuring that legal proceedings move forward smoothly, without delays caused by non-compliance.

If you receive a subpoena related to your employment at the University, it's important for you to understand that certain privileges such as physician-patient, psychotherapist-patient, or attorney-client privilege may apply to some of the requested documents.

How to Comply with a Subpoena

When complying with a subpoena, it's important to:


          Fully Understand the Subpoena

  • Carefully read and comprehend all details specified in the subpoena.
  • Identify the specific documents or testimony requested by the subpoena

    Evaluate and Assess the Subpoena
  • Determine if the issued subpoena is compliant with legal requirements.
  • Verify the legitimacy of the request and ensure it aligns with legal obligations.

    Retain Legal Counsel
  • Seek advice from legal professionals to understand rights and obligations.
  • Engage an attorney to guide through the compliance process and protect legal interests.

    Prepare Required Documents or Testimony
  • Gather all relevant documents or information specified in the subpoena.
  • Organize necessary materials for presentation when called upon as a witness.

    Timely Response and Compliance
  • Adhere to all deadlines outlined in the subpoena for document submission or testimony appearance.
  • Ensure that all required materials are submitted within the designated timeframe.

    Maintain Transparency and Cooperation
  • Cooperate fully with lawful requests detailed in the subpoena.
  • Respond transparently and truthfully to any questions during testimony or document production.

    Document Compliance Process
  • Keep records of all communication, actions taken, and documentation submitted in response to the subpoena.
  • Maintain a clear trail of compliance activities for reference in case of further legal inquiries.

    Protect Privacy Rights when Providing Information
  • Safeguard sensitive personal information when producing requested documents.
  • Only disclose what is legally required without infringing on privacy rights.

    Seek Clarification if Necessary
  • Seek clarification from proper authorities if any part of the subopena is unclear.
    • Request guidance on how best to comply while protecting individual rights

          Review Compliance with Legal Counsel

  • Upon completion, review compliance efforts with legal counsel to ensure fulfillment of legal obligations.
  • Make any necessary adjustments based on professional advice before finalizing compliance.


The Importance of Complying with a Subpoena

It's crucial to comply with a subpoena. Ignoring it can lead to legal consequences. Subpoenas play a significant role in legal proceedings.

Legal Repercussions of Ignoring a Subpoena

Ignoring a subpoena can lead to serious legal consequences like contempt, fines, or even arrest. It is crucial to understand that a subpoena is a legally binding order, and failure to respond can result in penalties imposed by the court.

This includes fines for non-compliance or being arrested for contempt of court. Therefore, it is important to take any received subpoena seriously and act accordingly in compliance with the legal requirements.

By disregarding a subpoena, individuals risk facing severe repercussions such as hefty fines or possible arrest on grounds of contempt of court. Subpoenas carry legally binding power which requires strict adherence at the risk of significant legal penalties.

The Role of Subpoenas in Legal Proceedings

Subpoenas play a crucial role in legal proceedings. They compel individuals or entities to testify as witnesses, produce documents, or other tangible evidence necessary for a case.

This tool ensures that all relevant information is accessible during legal processes, aiding in the fair determination of cases by providing access to essential evidence and testimony.

Additionally, it underpins the concept of due process and fairness in legal matters by compelling cooperation and contribution to the discovery process.

Challenging a Subpoena

When faced with a subpoena, there are certain circumstances under which it is possible to challenge its validity. This process involves understanding the legal grounds for challenging a subpoena and following the appropriate steps to do so.

Circumstances for Challenging a Subpoena

Challenging a subpoena is possible under certain circumstances. Here are valid reasons to challenge a subpoena:


  1. Lack of proper service or procedural errors in issuing the subpoena.
  2. The subpoena imposes an undue burden, such as high costs or significant disruption.
  3. The information requested is confidential, privileged, or protected by law.
  4. There is no relevance or materiality of the requested information to the case.
  5. Compliance with the subpoena would violate a person's constitutional rights, such as the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.
  6. Insufficient time to comply with the demands of the subpoena due to its timing or scope.
  7. The subpoenas are issued for purposes of harassment, unnecessary delay, or an improper motive instead of seeking evidence relevant to a legitimate legal proceeding.


The Process of Challenging a Subpoena

To challenge a subpoena, there are specific circumstances and a process that must be followed:


  1. Determine if the subpoena is valid based on legal grounds.
  2. Engage an attorney experienced in handling subpoenas to assess the validity of the subpoena.
  3. File a motion to quash the subpoena if it is found to be invalid or unjustified.
  4. Attend the court hearing to present arguments supporting the motion to quash, seeking dismissal of the subpoena.
  5. Convince the court that complying with the subpoena would cause undue hardship or injustice.


Remember, challenging a subpoena should always be approached with caution and in adherence to legal procedures.

Subpoena vs Summons: A Comparison

Subpoenas and summons serve critical, yet distinct roles in legal procedures. This comparison shines light on their key differences.


Aspect Subpoena Summons
Purpose Compels a person or entity to testify or produce documents. Compels a defendant to appear in court for a lawsuit.
Use in Cases Used in criminal cases, civil lawsuits, and investigations. Primarily for notifying defendants in lawsuits.
Target Generally issued to third parties. Served to the defendant in a legal action.
Consequences of Non-Compliance Contempt, monetary sanctions, or imprisonment. Default judgment and legal costs against the defendant.


Subpoenas and summons, though both integral to the justice system, mandate different actions from those they target. Understanding these differences ensures legal compliance and informs strategic responses in legal disputes.


Complying with a subpoena is crucial in legal proceedings. Ignoring a subpoena can result in penalties like fines or arrest warrants. It's essential to understand the legal consequences of not complying with a subpoena.

The importance of complying with subpoenas cannot be overstated, as it ensures fair access to pertinent information for resolving legal disputes.


1. What happens if I don't follow a subpoena?

If you ignore a subpoena, the court may issue a warrant for your arrest and charge you with contempt of court.

2. Can I get help paying for being a witness?

Yes, witnesses can receive fees and sometimes travel costs (per diem) to cover their expenses when they obey a witness subpoena.

3. What is the role of subpoenas in trials?

Subpoenas are used to gather evidence by requiring people to show up in court as jurors or witnesses or bring documents important to the case.

4. Do subpoenas only work within one state?

No, subpoenas can work across states thanks to rules set by district courts and the United States District Courts system.

5. Is it okay to lie under oath if I'm scared?

Lying under oath, called perjury, is illegal and can lead to severe penalties including fines or jail time.

6. How do lawyers use subpoenas during pre-trial discovery?

Lawyers use subpoenas during pre-trial discovery to collect information from parties involved in the case through depositions, documents, and other evidence before trial begins.