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What Is a Subpoena?
If you are involved in a lawsuit, it’s important not to ignore any requests you receive from an attorney or the court. There are often penalties for noncompliance and your failure to act could have a detrimental impact on your case.
Now, subpoenas are a type of request that order someone to do something in connection with a legal matter, such as a divorce, child custody case, or dispute over child support or alimony. These are an important part of the court process, and help locate evidence and make sure that witnesses show up to trial.
What Can a Subpoena Do?
Note that there are a few types of subpoenas that are used in trials. One type of subpoena compels a person to come to court and testify as a witness. Another type requires that someone produce tangible evidence, such as documents or photographs.
Keep in mind that a subpoena can require a witness to both testify and furnish evidence. This might be the case if the person’s testimony is necessary in order to understand the evidence.
Sometimes a witness will be asked to provide testimony before a trial or hearing. In this case, they would receive a subpoena for a deposition. A deposition is an opportunity to ask the witness questions under oath to help prepare a case for trial. These are recorded by a court reporter with attorneys present.
Note that minors can be subpoenaed, but they must be accompanied by either a parent, guardian, guardian ad litem, or an attorney ad litem.
How to Create and Serve a Subpoena
To be effective, subpoenas must list the case name and court, as well as the nature of the request. Court websites often have forms available for you to use that meet these requirements. However, it’s always best to have an attorney assist in this process.
Now, subpoenas that require a person to testify in court must be issued by either an attorney licensed in the state or contain a stamp from the clerk of court. Further, the subpoena must be personally delivered or “served” on the person.
What to Do If You Receive a Subpoena
If you are served a subpoena, it’s important to carefully read through the document’s contents. It should contain information regarding the date and time of the hearing or deposition and/or the nature of the evidence you are being asked to provide.
It’s a good idea to educate yourself on what the case is about so that you can be prepared if you need to go to court. If you are unsure about how to respond, it can be helpful to reach out to an attorney for advice.
Challenging a Subpoena
Remember, it’s never a good idea to ignore a subpoena. Doing so can result in being held in contempt of court, which can lead to fines and even jail time. However, there are a few ways to challenge a subpoena so that you are relieved of your duty to act on the request. This is referred to as “quashing” the subpoena.
One of the ways a subpoena can be quashed is if the legal requirements for service or content were not followed. In addition, for depositions, typically only individuals that reside, work in, or transact business in the county where the deposition will be held can be subpoenaed.
Privilege is another basis for objecting to a subpoena. Examples would be requesting a professional to testify about doctor-patient or attorney-client communications.
Another common objection is based on what is known as “undue hardship.” This might apply in cases where an evidence request is too broad. An example would be if a party to a lawsuit asks you to produce every email for the last 10 years. In these cases, a successful challenge would likely require the party to narrow down the request.
Note that the deadline for quashing a subpoena for a deposition is generally 10 days from the date of service. However, if the deposition is less than 10 days away, the deadline is the date of the deposition.
If the subpoena involves witnesses or requests to produce evidence, the challenge must be made “promptly.” While this is not an exact timeframe, the challenge must come at a reasonable time before the hearing or trial.
As you can see, the subpoena process can get complicated. For that reason, it’s important to have a qualified attorney on your side that can review the request and help you determine the best course of action.
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