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What is a Subpoena?

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A subpoena is a writ, or written command, that is issued by a legal authority. It orders an individual to appear in court as a witness. Subpoenas include specific information like time, date and the location of the courthouse. Subpoenas may also used by other legislative panels such as investigative committees.

In the absence of a subpoena, a witness is not required to attend court or provide sworn testimony in a case. A person who fails to comply with the orders on a subpoena may be punished by the law.

How Many Kinds of Subpoenas are There?

There are two types of subpoenas that a court may issue to a witness:

  • Ad testificandum: A subpoena ad testificandum is a standard order that requires a witness to appear in court and give testimony.
  • Duces tecum: Used most often in civil courts, a subpoena duces tecum orders a witness to provide a requested item to the court. These items may be documents or records that a court can use to make a decision on a legal matter. If a person refuses to provide the needed information, the court can use a subpoena duces tecum to force its appearance.

A subpoena must be served to the person who is being forced to attend court. The majority of states require subpoenas to be served by a member of law enforcement.

The Elements of a Subpoena

The required elements of a standard subpoena are:

  • An announcement of the proceeding in question
  • The names of the defendant (and plaintiff, if applicable)
  • The name of the witness who is ordered to appear
  • A list of the materials or documents that the witness is required to bring
  • The date and time of the trial, as well as the location of the court

The subpoenas of some jurisdictions also list the consequences for failing to comply with court orders.

What Happens if I Don’t Show Up at Court?

The word subpoena means “under penalty.” Anyone who refuses to comply with the conditions of a subpoena may be found in contempt of court. If a person neglects his responsibility to testify in court, a law enforcement officer may escort him or her to the trial after delivering an instanter. Individuals who are opposed to appearing in court may request a hearing with a judge in order to voice their concerns.

To learn more, speak to Brett A. Podolsky at 713-227-0087.

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