Subpoena Witness (What To Expect And Your Rights As A Witness)

Subpoena witness?

You received a subpoena to act as a witness in court?

You don’t know what to expect?

What are your rights as a witness?

Don’t need to stress too much about it as we got you covered.

In this article, we will tell you what is a witness subpoena, what to expect and what are your rights.

Let’s dive right in.

What is a witness subpoena 

A witness subpoena is an order from the court asking you to appear before a judge and testify. 

There is no need to panic if you have just been served with a witness subpoena.

Subpoenas are sent to people on a daily basis.

Parties to a lawsuit may need the testimony of someone to complete their evidence in court and get an oral testimony.

So a witness subpoena is essentially the court asking you to come and testify in the context of a legal matter that does not involve you.

Subpoenaed to act as a witness in court: what to expect

You have received a subpoena to testify in court, how should you go about it?

What to expect?

Read the subpoena carefully 

The first step is to try to understand in what type of case you are asked to testify.

Are you asked to testify in a civil lawsuit, is it a criminal case, is it for a deposition or trial?

So make sure you read the subpoena carefully to fully understand what is being asked from you.

I was subpoenaed as a witness: prepare yourself

Now that you know what the subpoena is all about, you need to prepare yourself to testify.

You should try to jot down all the important facts you remember or you believe are relevant to the lawsuit you are asked to testify in.

It’s impossible to prepare in advance for all the possible questions a lawyer can ask you but you should have a general idea why you are being called to testify in a case.

If you are asked to testify, it’s because the lawyers consider that you “may” have something relevant to share.

Testimony before trial 

Getting a testimony before trial means that you’re asked to testify for a deposition in the context of the discovery of a case.

A testimony before trial, also known as “deposition” or “out-of-court examination”, is a testimony you will give under oath generally in the office of the lawyers representing a party.

The lawyers are involved in learning more about the case and conducting their discovery.

They believe that you may have some information or fact that can be relevant for their case.

Subpoena witness for trial 

You can also be asked to testify during trial before a judge.

This is a testimony where the lawyers of either party will ask you questions and obtain your testimony live in front of a judge.

Before you start your testimony, you will be asked to swear under oath to tell the truth.

If you were already deposed in the same case, it may be a good idea for you to read the transcript of your past testimony to ensure that you remember what you had said.

You can contact the lawyers who had sent you a subpoena to get a copy of the transcript of your out-of-court examination.

Subpoena witness rights

If you have received a subpoena, as a witness, you certainly have some rights.

Right to consult a lawyer

Fundamentally, you have the right to consult with a lawyer.

You may want to look at the nature of the case in which you are asked to testify and retain the services of a litigation lawyer experienced with that type of dispute.

For example, if you have received a subpoena to act as a witness in a criminal case, you may want to speak to a criminal lawyer.

If you are asked to testify in a commercial dispute, you may want to speak with a commercial litigation lawyer.

In most cases, witnesses don’t necessarily need to consult a lawyer but you have the right to do so.

Right to challenge the subpoena to act as a witness

You have the right to challenge the witness subpoena.

If the subpoena was invalid, did not follow the rules of the applicable court, is defective, requires that you travel excessively or does not give you sufficient delays to prepare, you may be able to object to the subpoena.

You should speak to a lawyer so they can quickly file a motion to quash the subpoena within the right legal timelines.

You should act quickly as there are delays you must respect to file your motion to quash.

Right to get a witness fee

If you are going to testify, remember that you have the right to get a witness fee.

A witness fee is an indemnity paid to you for having to go to court and testify for some time.

It is an amount intended to cover your transportation costs along with compensating you for the time you took to testify in the case. 

You won’t get rich, but it’s your right to get the witness fee. 

Can I refuse to be a witness in court 

You can’t just refuse to be a witness in court.

You may have reasons to legally challenge and contest the subpoena, but you can’t just refuse.

When you get a witness subpoena and you are asked to testify, at that very moment, you cannot refuse to be a witness in court.

Remember, a subpoena is an order from the court and a legal request made against you. 

You will need to prepare yourself to show up in court on the day requested and testify.

However, you can challenge the subpoena to be a witness in court if you have a valid reason.

You should consult with a lawyer to see how you can contest a subpoena sent to you to act as a witness in court.

If the court considers that you are a witness entirely irrelevant to the lawsuit, then the court may quash the subpoena against you.

When the court quashes your subpoena, then you are free to go!

On what grounds can I refuse to testify if I get a subpoena

You cannot just refuse to testify.

When you get a subpoena, you must comply with it.

So how to get out of a subpoena to testify?

However, if you have reasons to contest the subpoena, you should legally challenge it within the legal timelines.

In our article Motion to Quash Subpoena giving you an outline of the grounds to quash a subpoena, we cover the typical grounds used to contest a subpoena.

You are under subpoena to comply with its terms until the court renders a judgment releasing you from your obligations.

So make sure you file a motion to contest the subpoena as soon as possible in case you have valid reasons to contest it.

Can a witness be charged with a crime

There are a few instances where you’ll need to be very careful when you get a witness subpoena.

Witness subpoena in civil lawsuits

If you received a subpoena to be a witness in a civil lawsuit, generally speaking if you tell the court what you truly remember, you are fine.

However, if you deliberately testify to mislead the court, you can be exposed to perjury. 

Perjury is a crime.

If there is evidence showing that you knew that the information you were giving the court was wrong or misleading, you can be charged with perjury which is a crime.

Make sure you tell the truth and things that you remember.

Witness subpoena in criminal lawsuits 

If you get a subpoena in the context of a criminal lawsuit, you should also be careful.

Maybe you received a subpoena to testify since you witnessed a crime.

In that case, you have little to worry about.

Assuming that you will not lie to the court and expose yourself to being criminally charged with perjury, you should be ok.

However, if you are sent a subpoena to act as a witness in a criminal case where you may have a connection, be under investigation or related to the parties to the crime, your testimony may incriminate you.

If you incriminate yourself as a witness, then you can be charged with a crime.

You’ll need to consult a criminal lawyer to ensure you fully understand your rights to avoid incriminating yourself.


Getting a subpoena may be stressing but you should not panic.

Thousands of people get subpoenas on a daily basis.

This is how the court system functions effectively. 

If you received a subpoena witness, what should you expect and what are your rights?

In this article, we discussed the topic of subpoena witness in detail.

We looked at whether you can refuse to be a witness in court or be charged with a crime for example.

In most cases, people get a subpoena, go to court, testify and it’s over.

However, in case you feel that you are not comfortable or there are reasons why you are concerned, you should speak to a lawyer and assess your rights based on laws if your local jurisdiction.

We hope this article was useful on the topic of witness subpoena.

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