Definition of subpoena
First attested with this spelling in 1623 CE, from Latin: sub (“under”) and poena (“penalty”).
subpoena (plural subpoenas)
- (law) A writ requiring someone to appear in court to give testimony.
subpoena (third-person singular simple present subpoenas, present participle subpoenaing, simple past and past participle subpoenaed)
- To summon with a subpoena.
A subpoena /səˈpiːnə/ is a writ by a government agency, most often a court, that has authority to compel testimony by a witness or production of evidence under a penalty for failure. There are two common types of subpoena:
- subpoena ad testificandum orders a person to testify before the ordering authority or face punishment. The subpoena can also request the testimony to be given by phone or in person.
- subpoena duces tecum orders a person or organization to bring physical evidence before the ordering authority or face punishment. This is often used for requests to mail copies of documents to requesting party or directly to court.
Subpoenas are usually issued by the clerk of the court in the name of the judge presiding over the case. Additionally, court rules may permit lawyers to issue subpoenas themselves in their capacity as officers of the court. Typically subpoenas are issued "in blank" and it is the responsibility of the lawyer representing the plaintiff or defendant on whose behalf the testimony is to be given to serve the subpoena on the witness.
The subpoena will usually be on the letterhead of the court where the case is filed, name the parties to the case, and be addressed by name to the person whose testimony is being sought. It will contain the language "You are hereby commanded to report in person to the clerk of this court" or similar, describing the specific location, scheduled date and time of the appearance. Some issuing jurisdictions include an admonishment advising the subject of the criminal penalty for failure to comply with a subpoena, and reminding him or her not to leave the court facilities until excused by a competent authority. In some situations the person is paid.
Pro se litigants who represent themselves, unlike lawyers, must ask a court clerk to officially issue them subpoena forms when they need to call witnesses by phone or in person, or when they need to officially request documents to be sent to them and/or directly to court (any documents that have not been subpoenaed to court or verified by a witness can be dismissed by the opposite party as hearsay). If the witness is called via long-distance phone call, then the requesting party is responsible for initiating the call and providing a payment with a prepaid phone card.
Some states (as is the case in Florida) require the subpoenaing party to first file a Notice of Intent to Serve Subpoena, or a Notice of Production from Non-Party 10 days prior to issuing the subpoena, so that the other party may have ample time to file any objections.
- Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.