Subpoenas are critical to court proceedings, but you might not know what one actually does. Even if you aren’t party to a lawsuit, you could receive a subpoena for one. If you find yourself subpoenaed, here’s what you can expect from the process.
What is a Subpoena?
A subpoena is a legal, court-ordered written command for certain documents or for someone to appear in court. The information obtained from a subpoena request may be used to support facts in a case.
Subpoena means “under penalty.” If someone doesn’t comply after receiving a subpoena, they may face fines, jail time, or other civil or criminal penalties.
What Types of Subpoena Are There?
Subpoenas can be divided into three main types:
- Subpoena ad testificandum, also known as a Witness Subpoena, which requires someone to testify in court or other legal proceedings.
- Subpoena duces tecum, which requires a person to provide material, documents, or other forms of physical or electronic evidence.
- Deposition Subpoena, which requires an outside party to the lawsuit to submit information or documents as part of the discovery process, but which may not be used in the actual trial.
When and Why Subpoenas are Used
There are many situations where subpoenas might be requested, but they are most commonly used in personal injury cases, divorce or child custody cases, or criminal cases.
Through subpoenas, lawyers can obtain information to help support their client’s case. The information assists in either proving or disproving something. For example, personal injury lawyers regularly subpoena people who hold information that may help settle an accident victim’s claim. Subpoenas are issued during the deposition of a personal injury case. This is after the lawsuit has been filed but before trial.
In non-personal injury cases, subpoenas may be used to have a spouse appear in court during a child custody hearing or to obtain testimony from a witness to support a claim of guilt or innocence in a criminal trial.
What Information Can Subpoenas Collect?
Subpoenas may request information like:
- Medical records or results of exams
- Insurance documents
- Financial documents
- Surveillance footage or photos
- Expert witness credentials
- DNA samples
- Blood test information
A subpoena does not mean the recipient has done anything wrong; it just means the court needs information they possess or can provide. For example, a personal injury lawyer may subpoena a witness in a car accident case to support the plaintiff’s claim. On the other hand, a subpoena may also be used to challenge a key piece of evidence, such as a motor vehicle accident report.
What is Included in a Subpoena?
Subpoenas must include the case number and other case reference information, the purpose of the subpoena, and information on the issuing court. It may request the individual submit certain documents, appear in court at a specific location and time, or allow for inspection.
Subpoenas must usually be issued by the court where the legal action was filed. If the subpoena commands physical presence for a proceeding, the individual receiving the subpoena must live in the same state or live or work within a 100-mile radius. They should not be required to accrue unreasonable expenses from traveling to the location.
The individual is not required to appear in court in person if the demand is specifically for materials or documents.
Parties Who Can Issue a Subpoena
Most of the time, an attorney will issue and sign a subpoena on behalf of a court. The attorney must be legally authorized to practice law in that court. A self-represented individual (known as pro se representation) or service an attorney has hired can also issue a subpoena.
Government agencies can also issue subpoenas when conducting their own criminal or administrative investigations.
Need Help With Your Personal Injury Case?
Having a personal injury attorney on your side after an accident can make all the difference in your financial recovery. They can determine whether a subpoena is necessary for obtaining information relevant to your case. This is what we do at John Foy & Associates. To schedule a FREE consultation to go over your options, call us today at 404-400-4000 or complete the form on our Contact page.