If you’re not familiar with the law, receiving a subpoena can be a jarring event. You may find yourself wondering how to respond to a subpoena, what you will have to do, and whether or not a subpoena can get you or someone you care about into legal trouble. Here’s what to do if you receive a subpoena:
What is a Subpoena?
A subpoena is a legal document issued by a Court compelling someone to give testimony. The fact that you’ve received a subpoena does not necessarily mean you are in legal trouble, and you may be subpoenaed to give testimony in cases about which you know nothing or with which you have little involvement.
There are two kinds of subpoenas issued by courts. A subpoena duces tecum requires you to hand over documents or evidence, but does not necessarily require that you give testimony. A deposition subpoena means that you are compelled to give sworn testimony about something you have knowledge about pertaining to a legal action.
What To Do If You Receive a Subpoena
It’s important to read the subpoena carefully and determine what, specifically, it is requesting. Many court documents look like subpoenas, and subpoenas may be issued by private attorneys, which means that you may be able to contest the subpoena. Sometimes police or courts will issue warrants for information instead of subpoenas. If you have received a warrant and not a subpoena, you must comply immediately with the warrant and you should contact a lawyer as soon as you can. Your lawyer will file a “Motion to Quash” the subpoena, and can do so on several grounds, including: improper service (the subpoena was not delivered correctly to you); scope of request (the subpoena is too broad and instead of, say, merely requesting a particular email it requests all of your emails); confidential (information is protected by attorney client privilege, spousal privilege, etc.)
When you accept a subpoena, your acceptance does not necessarily mean you have agreed to comply with the subpoena. If the subpoena is asking for documentation you are uncomfortable handing over, like medical records, emails, etc., you can contest the subpoena with the Courts. You may not win and may still be compelled to hand over the documents, but contesting is worthwhile if you feel the subpoena is invading your privacy or the privacy of someone else. Contact a lawyer if you want to contest a subpoena, and contact one quickly because you usually have only a short window of time in which to comply with the subpoena.
If the subpoena is instead compelling you to give testimony, you should contact the person who issued the subpoena if providing testimony will pose a problem. Inconvenient dates and travel times are often cause to either eliminate or reschedule someone’s testimony. If you have to travel or miss work in order to give testimony, your travel costs should be covered, but you will need to request to have this done by the person issuing the subpoena.
It is possible to respond to a subpoena without an attorney, and if you feel comfortable giving testimony or providing the requested material, you can do just that. If, however, you wish to object to the subpoena, it will be in your best interest to hire an attorney.