What is a Subpoena and Do I Have to Comply?

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Subpoenas, and their effects, have been in the news lately – but what is a subpoena? Generally, a subpoena is a request for documents or a request to appear in a legal proceeding, whether for testimony at a trial or for a deposition.  Subpoenas are a part of the legal process of gathering evidence and presenting that evidence to the court.  A subpoena which seeks documents or other items is called a subpoena duces tecum.  A subpoena seeking your testimony is called a subpoena ad testificandum.  Although they have different names, the effect is generally the same – the party receiving the subpoena must do something or face a penalty.

Subpoenas cover a broad range of application.You may receive a subpoena if you were a witness to a criminal act.  The subpoena may demand your appearance at trial to testify about what you saw.  If you are an employer, you may also receive a subpoena seeking employment records if an employee is involved in a divorce case or other litigation.  A subpoena may also be used to gather business records from various entities like banks or other businesses that relate to a dispute between business partners.  These are just a few of the scenarios which may require you to either appear to testify or produce documents. 

Next – what do you do if you are served with a subpoena?  First, you should contact an attorney to assess how you should respond to the subpoena.  Sometimes, you may have a good reason to object to the subpoena, like if the information sought is privileged. If there is reason for objection, it is important to provide that written objection to the party serving the subpoena. Otherwise, without a reason to object, you should generally respond to the subpoena as requested by appearing to testify or providing the requested documents or items.  A subpoena will include a specific timeframe for you to respond with the requested documents or otherwise appear to testify.

If you do not object and fail to respond or appear, the court may find you in contempt.  A finding of contempt for failure to respond to a subpoena can result in various penalties, ranging from an order to comply with the subpoena, to fines or fees, to a warrant for your arrest.  Because of these penalties, it is important to take a subpoena seriously.

If you need assistance with your case and obtaining information, or if you have been served with a subpoena, contact an attorney at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Attorneys in Fargo, North Dakota to discuss or call 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002.