“I’ve Been Subpoenaed, What Do I Do Now?”, Subpoenas Explained

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 is dedicated to providing our readers the most important and up to date legal articles available online, and today’s informative post will seek to answer the questions that often arise when one is on the receiving end of a subpoena. What is a subpoena? What happens after receiving one? Can it be ignored? All of these questions will be answered for our readers here on the blog.

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. 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 suggestion to the person being summoned that they could show up in court if they want to (much like a speeding ticket, which must be paid if the “guilty” party doesn’t appear to “fight” it). A subpoena is the opposite of a suggestion: it’s a legal requirement.

What happens if a subpoena is ignored?

An experienced, well intentioned lawyer would never, ever suggest his or her client ignore a subpoena. This would be foolish and harmful and puts the client at-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:

After failing to appear at the time appointed on the documents in the subpoena, a judge will issue a warrant and it’s possible a sheriff could pick up the person who failed to appear; depending on the situation, the sheriff may even handcuff the person and bring them to the courthouse against their will.

After the initial 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) his or her honor may reschedule the appearance in the subpoena 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 an attorney 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”, the judge may hold them in contempt and place them in jail for days or possibly longer if the person has a history of failing to appear.

I was subpoenaed, what’s next?

Another important thing to remember is that if all instructions laid out in the subpoena are followed, the client 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 experienced legal advice to the client and explain anything they don’t understand.

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.

It bears repeating that with an experience lawyer retained and a full understanding of what the subpoena requires, there should not be anything that prohibits the client from complying with a judge’s order. 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.

A word from Sagi Shaked

To take the importance of subpoenas a step further, double board certified civil trial attorney Sagi Shaked explains the necessity of complying after receiving one in Shaked Law Firm Answers… “Subpoenas”:

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