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What Is A Subpoena (All You Need To Know About A Court Subpoena)

You are wondering what is a subpoena?

Subpoenas can be confusing, what is a subpoena duces tecum, what is a subpoena for a deposition, what is a court subpoena?

All you want is to know what does a subpoena mean!

We’ve got good news folks.

This article is all about subpoenas.

We will explain to you in detail what is a court subpoena and tell you exactly what a subpoena means.

Let’s dive right in!!

What does a subpoena mean

A subpoena is a legal order demanding someone to present a testimony or produce tangible evidence in the context of a court proceeding.

Subpoena in Latin virtually means “under penalty”, “sub” to mean under and “poena” to mean penalty.

There are typically two types of subpoenas:

  1. Subpoena ad testificandum
  2. Subpoena duces tecum

These are Latin terms to mean subpoena for someone to testify and subpoena for someone to produce documents, materials or some form of evidence.

Different types of subpoenas

There are different types of subpoenas, let’s look at a subpoena for deposition, witness subpoena and a subpoena duces tecum.

Subpoena for deposition 

So what is a subpoena for deposition?

A subpoena for deposition, also referred to as a subpoena ad testificandum, is an order from the court requiring a party not directly involved in a case to testify, give his or her recollection of the facts and potentially produce evidence.

Subpoena duces tecum 

There is another type of subpoena, subpoena duces tecum.

What is a subpoena duces tecum?

A subpoena duces tecum is a type of subpoena that can be sent to a third-party to a legal case or a party to a legal case ordering them to produce documents, files, pictures, images, material, evidence or any other material that can be used as evidence in court.

A subpoena duces tecum will typically be issued in the contest of a pre-trial discovery allowing the parties to a legal case gather all the documents and material they need to prepare their case.

Witness subpoena 

There is another type of subpoena intended to get someone to testify in court.

The witness subpoena is a court order requiring you or someone to appear before a judge to testify as to the facts of a case.

Subpoena witnesses must present themselves to court on the date and time required to deliver their testimony.

When can a subpoena be issued

A subpoena can be issued at any point in time during the legal proceedings.

Typically, a subpoena will be issued during the discovery phase of a case or in the context of a trial or hearing.

The subpoena sent out during the discovery is intended to gather factual evidence or obtain depositions from a person in order to help the parties prepare for trial.

The subpoena sent out for trial is to have a witness testify live in front of a judge.

What are subpoenas used for

Subpoenas are useful tools in helping lawyers and the court gather all the facts and testimonies required to fully resolve a dispute.

Subpoenas can be used in any type of legal proceedings.

They can be used in civil proceedings, administrative proceedings, criminal proceedings or any type of judicial process.

For example, a lawyer can send a subpoena to a person not directly a party to a legal proceeding in order to obtain that person’s testimony to help his or her case or to attack the validity of the other party’s claim.

Who can issue a subpoena

In some jurisdictions, such as in the North American legal systems, typically it’s up to the lawyers to demand the issuance of a subpoena.

The lawyer or attorney representing a party will issue and sign a subpoena on behalf of the court in the jurisdiction in which the attorney is authorized to practice law.

The courts will not actively get involved in the evidence gathering process of the parties.

In some other jurisdictions, the court will have a much greater control over the fact-gathering of the proceedings and will be the one issuing the subpoenas or demand from someone to testify or produce documents.

How are subpoenas served

Subpoenas must be legally served to the intended recipient.

Depending on the location and circumstances of the case, a subpoena may be appropriately served in the following ways:

  1. Delivered in person
  2. Delivered by email
  3. Delivered by mail

Typically, once the subpoena is issued, a process server will be tasked with delivering it to the intended recipient in person.

If the recipient does not have a known address or it is not feasible to deliver the subpoena in person, a subpoena may be sent to someone by email.

In most jurisdictions, an email subpoena will require the authorization of the court prior to its service by email.

The service by mail follows the same principle as the email service in case an in-person service may not be possible.

What information is contained in a subpoena

The subpoena must contain some essential information for it to be valid and allow you to comply with its terms.

The subpoena must clearly outline:

  1. The name of the issuing court and its district
  2. The name, address and contact information of the lawyer issuing the subpoena 
  3. The name and identification of the parties related to the court case
  4. The court file number or docket number
  5. A clear order or demand to provide testimony, produce documents or both
  6. A clear order as to date, time and place you must provide your testimony or produce your documents

If any of the elements here are missing, you should consult with an attorney to see what must be done.

Consequences of ignoring a court subpoena 

If you get a subpoena, you need to make sure you respond to it.

A court subpoena is a legal document that must not be ignored.

You may not agree with what’s requested in the court subpoena, but that does not give you the right to ignore it.

Rather, you’ll need to legally contest the subpoena. 

If someone does not respond to a court subpoena, they can be found guilty of contempt to court and subject to civil and potentially criminal consequences.

Consequences of not respecting the subpoena demands

A person who receives a subpoena and does not comply with the demand contained within it will be subject to civil or in some jurisdictions criminal penalties.

The consequences can be the issuance of a fine, imprisonment or even both depending on the circumstances of the refusal. 

If you are required to testify, you must ensure you see who is asking you to testify, understand where you must go to give your testimony, when and what time.

If you are requested to produce documents, material, exhibits or evidence, you should make sure you gather what is asked in the subpoena and deliver it to the lawyer requesting it by the date and time indicated.

How to contest a subpoena

You’ve received a subpoena duces tecum and you are asked to produce certain documents.

You do not agree to produce these documents for valid reasons such as confidentiality, privileged by client-lawyer relationship or any other valid legal ground.

In such a case, you must contest the content of the subpoena.

Typically, this process is called a motion to quash a subpoena.

In your motion to quash a subpoena, you’ll indicate the grounds on which you do not believe that the documents requested from you must be produced.

Ultimately, the court will render a decision.

Once that decision is rendered, you’ll be bound by that decision unless you choose to appeal that court decision until it is no longer appealable. 

Summons vs subpoena 

A summons is an official notice that a lawsuit has been filed.

With a summons, you are essentially serving a copy of your legal application to the defendant so they have the opportunity to defend themselves and respond to your allegations.

A summons is the process by which you let the defending party know that you have filed a claim, let them know the content of your claim and give them the opportunity to react.

A subpoena, on the other hand, is a legal document ordering someone to do something.

The subpoena can order you to testify at a certain date, place and time before the court or give your deposition or order you to produce legal documents.

If the person who has received the subpoena does not comply with order required within it, that person will be exposed to be in contempt to court and face severe fines or even imprisonment.

With a subpoena, the recipient must react and comply. 


A court subpoena is a legal document requiring you to testify before the court or produce documents.

A subpoena can be used for several reasons:

  1. Subpoena for deposition or testimony of a third-party before the court also known as a subpoena ad testificandum
  2. Subpoena to produce documents or subpoena duces tecum

In this article, we’ve talked about what is a subpoena in detail.

We’ve looked at different types of subpoenas, the information it contains, who can issue a subpoena and the consequences of ignoring or failing to respect a subpoena.

We hope that you now better understand what is a subpoena and are better equipped in dealing with it in case you get one.

If you’ve received a subpoena and you don’t know what to do or have questions, you should immediately consult an attorney for legal advice.

We hope you enjoyed this article.

We would love to hear from you if you have any feedback to give us.

Drop us a comment! 

Editorial Staff
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer by trade and an entrepreneur by spirit. I specialize in law, business, marketing, and technology (and love it!). I'm an expert SEO and content marketer where I deeply enjoy writing content in highly competitive fields. On this blog, I share my experiences, knowledge, and provide you with golden nuggets of useful information. Enjoy!

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