Under the law, a subpoena is defined as “a writ ordering a person to attend a court”.
When a judge issues a subpoena for a person, this means they do not receive the choice as to whether or not they want to appear in court. Failing to appear in court at the appointed time after the issuance of a subpoena can result in serious legal consequences. The Shaked Law Firm’s Law Resource Blog is dedicated to providing our readers the most important and up to date legal writeups and content available on the web. This informative post will seek to answer the questions that often arise when a client is on the receiving end of a subpoena (this can be scary and a lawyer must be retained under any circumstances in which a subpoena is involved; one should never act upon a subpoena alone).
Here’s a look at the questions we’ll answer along with other pertinent information related to being subpoenaed:
- What is a subpoena?
- What happens when a subpoena is ignored?
- What happens after a person is subpoenaed?
What is a subpoena?
The first question lawyers often receive from clients who have received a subpoena is “what is it?” because they don’t fully understand the legal weight it holds in court and that it’s not optional. An experienced lawyer will first and foremost advise their client about the most important aspect of a subpoena: it cannot be ignored. No matter the plans a client may have had that day, the subpoena must come first, and must be acknowledged with a court appearance at the time stated on the document.
As stated above, a subpoena is literally “a writ ordering a person to attend a court”. A subpoena is not a “friendly suggestion” to the person being summoned that they could show up in court if they want to. A subpoena is the opposite of a suggestion: it’s a legal requirement.
What happens when a subpoena is ignored?
An experienced, well intentioned lawyer would never, ever suggest his or her client ignore a subpoena and will act on their behalf to find out the details of the order. A lawyer who suggests a subpoena be ignored would be foolish and harmful and put the client at serious risk for serious legal consequences such as arrest and jail time. But, should a client not heed their lawyer’s advice and chooses to ignore the subpoena anyway, this is what could happen:
- A summoned person fails to appear at the time appointed on the documents in the subpoena, which will usually lead to a judge will issuing a warrant. Once a warrant is issued for the person, it’s possible a sheriff could pick them up from their home or workplace. Depending on the situation, the sheriff may even choose to handcuff the person and bring them to the courthouse that same day to answer to why they chose ignore a court appearance.
- After arrest, the person who was subpoenaed must go in front of the judge and explain why they chose not to appear when it was legally required of them to do so. If the judge is satisfied with the explanation (an honest family emergency with proper documentation from a hospital, or a death in the family with a death certificate for the deceased, for instance, is not simply disregarding the law, it was unforeseen) His or Her Honor may reschedule the appearance and allow the person to walk away with a slap on the wrist.
It should be noted, though, that unforeseen circumstances such as life threatening illness or death are extremely rare and lying to the judge or a lawyer in an attempt to get out of a subpoena will not work.
However, if the person has no excuse for failing to appear other than that they “didn’t want to” or “didn’t think it was required”, a judge may use his or her discretion to hold subpoenaed party in contempt (going against a court order) and place them in jail for several hours or possibly longer (days or weeks) if the person has a history of failing to appear and His or Her Honor wants to be certain they will appear at a rescheduled court date.
What happens after a person is subpoenaed?
Another important thing to remember is that if all instructions laid out in the subpoena are followed, the subpoenaed party should not have any issue with compliance. After receiving a subpoena, the first thing a client must do is contact his or her lawyer and set up a meeting. From there, the lawyer will provide the appropriate legal advice to the client and explain anything they don’t understand about what’s written within the court order.
The time to have any questions about the requirements of the subpoena answered is prior to the court date, as far in advance as is feasible. A person should never wait until the day of their court appearance to ask for clarification on what needs to happen in order to properly comply with the subpoena.
Some basic points to know about appearing in court after receiving a subpoena, and throughout a trial:
- Always arrive to the courthouse early: metal detectors, long lines, and passing through security can take an extended amount of time. Arriving to court with only minutes to spare, or late, could result in being held in contempt or the case being issued a continuance. This only serves to delay the legal process.
- Dress appropriately, practice proper hygiene: if unsure what to wear to a court date, the lawyer on the case can make appropriate suggestions. A quick Google search can also help clients choose a court-appropriate outfit. Appearing clean and modestly dressed to a court appearance can make a big difference.
- Don’t speak out of turn or interrupt the judge or lawyers: waiting until questioned to speak during trial is important, as well as acting politely and respectfully toward the judge and any other lawyers present during the case. Blurting out thoughts or concerns during trial can hurt the case. A lawyer has the client’s best interest. This means they know exactly what to say and how to phrase it. A client will usually be briefed on what to say and not to say prior to trial.
It bears repeating that with an experienced lawyer on the team and a full understanding of what a subpoena requires of the client, there should not be anything that prohibits the client from complying with a judge’s order. The subpoena was issued for a reason, and barring life-threatening circumstances, must be acted upon. Again, we must stress the importance of appearing in court as the legal consequences of failing to do so when legally mandated can be, and often are severe.
More information on subpoenas from Personal Injury lawyer Sagi Shaked
To take the importance of subpoenas one step further, Double Board Certified Civil Trial lawyer Sagi Shaked Esq. explains the necessity of complying after receiving one in Shaked Law Firm Answers… “Subpoenas” in the following video: