By Brian J. Forgue–
You may have encountered the term “subpoena” in crime novels, television shows, movies, or the news. However, receiving a subpoena in real life can be a jarring and confusing experience especially if you have little or no familiarity with the court system and don’t know how to properly respond. A subpoena is an order from a court to either produce documents (or other items) or a summons to appear at a specific time and place to provide oral testimony. Even if you are not the plaintiff or defendant in a particular case or any case for that matter, you may still receive a summons related to a dispute between other parties if you have knowledge, documents, or items relevant to the dispute. Below is some information you should know about different types of subpoenas and tips for what you should do in the event that you receive a subpoena.
Common types of subpoena:
- Subpoena duces tecum – this type is better known as a subpoena to produce documents and/or things. It requires the person named to provide documents, papers, or other items identified in the document that are in some way related to an ongoing court case. The summons will include instructions on how to comply with the subpoena, including the name of the party (or more likely, the party’s attorney) to whom the documents or things should be provided.
- Subpoena ad testificandum –this type is better known as a subpoena to attend and testify. It requires the person named to appear either for a deposition or a court hearing to provide oral testimony. The subpoena to attend and testify can also include a request for the person to whom the subpoena is addressed to produce documents, papers, or other items, just like the subpoena duces tecum, on the date of his or her deposition or court appearance in addition to providing oral testimony.
If you receive a subpoena, regardless of the form, and you are unfamiliar with the court system, or simply unsure of your rights, it is likely your best bet to consult an attorney. Issuing and serving a subpoena is a technical process involving several requirements the issuing party must satisfy before the subpoena appears in your mailbox, on your doorstep, or in your hand. A qualified attorney will be able to determine the level of compliance you must provide depending on certain factors. For example, an attorney can determine whether you were properly served in conformance with the applicable rules of court. Also, in some cases, the request(s) contained in the subpoena may be overly broad and sweeping such that your compliance would pose an unreasonable burden to you. An attorney can identify and analyze these and other issues on your behalf and advise you of the best course of action for your circumstances.
Remember that a subpoena is an order from a court and compliance is required. Serious consequences can result from noncompliance or inaction. Subpoenas should never be discarded on top of yesterday’s mail pile and forgotten. It is best to tackle the request(s) head-on and discuss your options with an attorney.
If you have received a summons and would like to discuss your rights and how to best respond, contact Brian at (610) 840-0221 or [email protected].
Brian J. Forgue is an attorney in MacElree Harvey, Ltd.’s Litigation practice group. Licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania, Brian represents clients in a broad range of litigation matters, with an emphasis on complex commercial litigation.