The great thing about the American legal system is that if you don’t want to talk to the police or testify at trial, you don’t have to. Sort of. This changes if you’re presented with a subpoena.
What is a Subpoena
Most of us are familiar with the word subpoena, but few of us know what one is or how it’s obtained.
There are two types of subpoenas: the subpoena ad testificandum and the subpoena duces tecum. The first is a summons that requires that you not only appear at a specific court hearing but that you also offer witness testimony. The second type of subpoena requires that you present specific documents/recordings/photos/etc. to the authorities so that they can use them as evidence in a case they’re building.
Both types of subpoenas are used in criminal and civil cases.
How Subpoenas are Obtained
Lawyers can’t just write up a subpoena for themselves. It’s something they have to request, sort of like a warrant. The lawyer who needs your story or the paperwork for a case will formally contact the trial clerk’s office and request a subpoena.
What Happens if I Ignore a Subpoena?
While there are some exceptions, in most places the only way you’ll get a subpoena is when a lawyer/clerk/process server hands it directly to you. Doing this makes it impossible for you to say you never received the court order or that you didn’t understand it.
If you’ve been handed a subpoena, you don’t want to ignore it. You’ll only get yourself into deep legal trouble.
If there is a problem with the subpoena, such as you no longer have the documentation requested or a major reason you can’t make the court date, you have two weeks to contact the trial clerk’s office and alert them to the situation.
Ignoring the subpoena and not showing up for court or providing the requested documentation can result in you being charged with contempt of court, which can result in a fine, jail time, or both.
While you can’t ignore a subpoena, you don’t have to think you have to handle the situation by yourself. That’s not the case at all. It’s okay to contact a good attorney and have them explain how the subpoena works and what your legal options are.