A subpoena is a legal tool that is used to obtain documents and information. It is also used to compel someone to appear at a deposition or testify in a court proceeding.
The term “subpoena” (pronounced “suh-pee-nuh), literally means “under penalty.” Anyone who does not comply with a subpoena may be subject to penalties, including fines and jail time. Based on these potential consequences, it is an extremely valuable way to obtain information or force an unwilling witness to appear to testify.
Types of Subpoenas
There are generally two types of subpoenas. The first is called a “subpoena duces tecum.” It requests that the person receiving the subpoena produce documents, tangible evidence, or other materials. These subpoenas often have a date and time deadline for you to appear to present this evidence, but you can usually avoid having to produce the information in person if you communicate with the requesting party and provide the materials before the deadline.
The other kind of subpoena is known as a “subpoena ad testificandum.” It requires that the person who receives the subpoena testify either in court or before another legal authority. This type of subpoena is used for depositions as well.
Subpoenas can be used in virtually any type of case, but they are especially prevalent in personal injury and family law cases.
Serving a Subpoena
Attorneys often request and issue subpoenas. In some instances, they may need to be approved by the court as well. Once issued, a subpoena can be served in a variety of ways, including:
Hand delivery (personal service)
Electronic means (email or fax)
In some cases, a subpoena may also be served by simply reading it out loud to the recipient.
Responding to a Subpoena
In some situations, a subpoena may be issued to you inappropriately. It may request information that is privileged, confidential, or not otherwise relevant to the issues in the underlying case. In those situations, you can “fight” a subpoena by attempting to “quash” it.
Even if you do not think you have a valid reason to quash a subpoena, you should never ignore it. Failing to respond to a subpoena is usually considered contempt of court, which may come with civil and criminal penalties.
It is a good idea to speak with an attorney if you have received a subpoena. Your lawyer can tell you what type of information you may not need to produce.
Gathering Information with Subpoenas in a Personal Injury Case
Witnesses to a personal injury case may not want to be involved in litigation. Using a subpoena can force them to provide information or testimony, even when they are unwilling. You can also obtain documents that can be very valuable to your case, including:
Photographs or videos
Medical bills or insurance records
Prior accident information
Household data (such as through tax records)
Your attorney will help you determine whether using a subpoena is a good idea for your personal injury case.