If you have received a legal document called a subpoena from a process server, it is important that you know what this paper is and what it means to you. A subpoena is an order issued by the court. The subpoena usually requires you to appear at a certain place, date, and time to testify as a witness about a particular case. In a criminal case, you can be subpoenaed only to testify in court. In a civil case, you may be subpoenaed for out-of-court testimony as well. In either kind of case, a subpoena may order you to provide documents.
A subpoena must be delivered in person. In most cases this can be done by one of the parties in the case or by anyone who is at least 18 years old.
If you are not one of the parties in the case, you should receive an attendance fee and transportation costs for appearing at the designated time and place. In a civil case, you should receive the attendance fee and transportation costs by the person who delivers the subpoena. In a criminal case, you will be paid after you travel to the designated place and testify as a witness.
Read the subpoena carefully. The subpoena will tell you: the names of the parties; the date, time and place you will need to appear; the name of the lawyer who issued the subpoena; and the location and type of court in which the case is taking place.
If the subpoena requires you to bring certain documents or other objects, they should be described in the subpoena or in a separate paper given to you along with the subpoena.
You may object to any subpoena. Object in writing, listing all the reasons you think it is unfair or unjust for you to appear or to produce the requested documents or objects. You should file any objections with the court immediately, not on the date you are required to appear or provide the documents. You may want to consult with a lawyer to make sure that your objections are filed correctly and on time.
A subpoena will also require that you remain at the place described until the testimony is closed, unless the judge excuses you. But you should contact the lawyer for the party who subpoenaed you to find out if you may be called the next day, or on a day in the future. This may help to prevent confusion or unnecessary time spent waiting.
If you do not appear as the subpoena orders, a judge may find you in contempt of court. Contempt of court may result in a jail term. The court may also order you to pay fees to the parties who may have been damaged by your failure to appear. The court may also issue a warrant for your arrest. The sheriff may take you into custody and bring you to the place where your testimony is required.
If it is impossible or extremely difficult for you to appear as required by the subpoena, call the lawyer for the party who issued the subpoena. Usually, the lawyer’s name, address and phone number will appear on the subpoena. The lawyer might be able to postpone your testimony so you could testify at another time. But you should keep in mind that the lawyer may not be able to change the date and time of your appearance if a court date is already set and cannot be moved. If it is absolutely impossible for you to appear, or if it would be seriously harmful to your health or business, you should seek the advice of your own lawyer.
Legal editor: Simeon D. Rapoport January 2016