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What is a Subpoena?

Subpoenas are very important in court proceedings, but many people don’t know what they do. You could get a subpoena for a lawsuit you are not even involved in.

A subpoena is a legal, written order from the court for certain documents or for a person to appear in court. The information gathered from a subpoena request can be used to back up facts in a case.

Subpoena means “under penalty.” If someone is given a subpoena and doesn’t follow it, they may have to pay fines, go to jail, or face other civil or criminal penalties.

What Types of Subpoenas Are There?

There are three main kinds of subpoenas, which are:

  • A subpoena ad testificandum, also called a “witness subpoena,” is a legal document that tells someone they have to testify in court or another legal proceeding.
  • With a subpoena duces tecum, a person has to give material, documents, or other types of physical or digital evidence.
  • A deposition subpoena tells a person not involved in the lawsuit to give information or documents as part of the discovery process, but the information cannot be used in the trial itself.

When and Why Subpoenas Are Used

Subpoenas can be asked for in several situations. Still, they are most often used in cases involving personal injury, divorce, child custody, or criminal cases.

Lawyers can use subpoenas to get information that will help their client’s case. The facts either help to prove or disprove something.

For example, personal injury lawyers often send subpoenas to people with information that could help settle a claim. The deposition phase of a personal injury case is when subpoenas are sent out. This happens after the lawsuit has been filed but before it goes to court.

In cases that don’t involve personal injury, subpoenas can be used to get a spouse to show up in court during a child custody hearing or to get a witness to testify in a criminal trial.

What Information Can Subpoenas Collect?

Subpoenas may request information like:

  • Expert Witness Credentials
  • Insurance Documents
  • Financial Documents
  • Medical Records or Results of Medical Exams
  • Blood Test Information
  • Surveillance Footage or Photos
  • DNA Samples

When someone gets a subpoena, it doesn’t mean they did something wrong; it just means the court needs information they can give. For instance, a personal injury lawyer might call a witness to testify in a car accident case to back up the victim’s claim.

What is Included in a Subpoena?

Subpoenas must include the following:

  • The case number and other case reference information
  • The purpose of the subpoena
  • Information on the issuing court

The subpoena may ask the person to turn in particular papers, go to court at a certain place and time, or let an inspection happen. Most of the time, subpoenas must be given out by the court where the plaintiff filed the lawsuit. If the subpoena requires someone to show up in person for a hearing, the person must live in the same state or work or live within 100 miles. If the demand is only for materials or documents, the person does not have to go to court in person.

Parties Who Can Issue a Subpoena

Most of the time, a subpoena is sent out by a court and signed by an attorney. A subpoena can also be given by a person representing themselves (called “pro se representation”) or by a service that an attorney has hired.

Government agencies can also send subpoenas when they do their own criminal or administrative investigations.

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