This guide shows you everything you’ll need to know about subpoenas from how it needs to be served, to what it means to be served a subpoena.
A subpoena is a request issued by a judicial court asking a person to provide evidence for a case. The request is issued by the clerk of the court in the name of the case’s judge. The subpoena must be notarized by the judge. It can be served by anyone over the age of 18, as long as they are legally not directly involved in the case. Some states have certain restrictions on subpoenas. Laws on serving a subpoena may change depending on the type of case and what state you’re in.
What Kind of Things Can a Subpoena Request?
There are two types of common subpoenas:
- Subpoena ad testificandum requests a person testify before the court. This testimony can be given in person or over the phone.
- Subpoena duces tecum requests a person or organization provide physical evidence regarding the case such as documents or receipts.
Ask a lawyer if you need any clarification on what a court is legally allowed to request from you.
Does a Subpoena Need to Be Served in Person?
A Deputy Sheriff can serve you over the phone if they require your attendance. As mentioned, subpoenas can be served by anyone over 18 who is not a direct party in the case. Subpoenas can be served:
- By hand and in person
- In an email to the last known address
- By mail via the US postal service
- Read aloud in person
When Can a Subpoena be Served?
You can be served at any time of day. Upon being served, you may be asked to sign documents saying you know and understand that you have been served. Depending on the state that you’re in, laws on serving subpoenas can change. For instance, you cannot serve a person on Sundays in Texas.
Keep reading to see if you can legally object to a subpoena depending on how it is served.
Am I in Trouble if I Get a Subpoena?
No, you are not in trouble! Unless the information the court requests is going to be defamatory or self-incriminating, then you shouldn’t be in trouble for testifying. You can always plead the fifth if it is, but there is a possibility of you being held in contempt of the court.
Can I Plead the Fifth on a Subpoena Request?
According to the constitution, “No person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” meaning you do not have to reveal anything that could prosecute you in any way. However, you cannot plead the fifth against another person.
If you need to ensure your testimony will not incriminate you in any way, be sure to contact a lawyer for legal advice on your testimony, as the questions themselves may be considered self-incriminating.
Can I Ignore or Refuse a Subpoena?
Do not ignore a subpoena, even if the information the court is requesting is self-incriminating. If you find it necessary, you can file a motion to quash the request. A quash states that you’re denying the request until the court dismisses the motion, or you come to an agreement with the requesting party. Ask a lawyer to help you file a motion with the judge, and what qualifies for a quash. If, for whatever reason, you cannot make a court date to appear in person, you can give a written or recorded testimony.
If there are other circumstances preventing you from testifying, you can call the DA’s office to explain why you cannot make a court appearance. Ask to speak with someone about your situation, or call a lawyer to see what other options you have.
Can I Object to a Subpoena?
You can object to the issuance of a subpoena if it was not served properly, or the request to evidence has no relevance in the case. Be sure to check your state laws on what is required to serve someone a subpoena, or ask a lawyer if what the court is requesting is:
- Information too broad and irrelevant to the case
- Asking you to produce evidence that will take an extreme amount of effort to produce
- Involving legally confidential documents
- The testimony will require you testify against yourself
Asking a lawyer on what kind of information is not legally required to be disclosed to the court will ensure you do not incriminate yourself. Speak to one of our partners if you have been subpoenaed and need legal advice.