Subpoena – Definition

Cite this article as:"Subpoena – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated September 10, 2019, last accessed October 26, 2020,

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Subpoena Definition

A subpoena refers to a summon that legally binds an individual to attend a court or appear before a judge. A subpoena is a writ issued by a court which mandates a person to go to a court to submit evidence, testify or produce records and documents that are needed in a case. A person who has received a subpoena cannot ignore the order, failure to appear before the court is tagged contempt of court and attracts a penalty.

A subpoena can be delivered to a recipient via email or personal delivery. A subpoena is otherwise called an administrative summons or a writ.

A Little More on What is a Subpoena

In a court case, an attorney can request that an individual who holds a key evidence of testimony that will aid the hearing of the case be issued a subpoena. The subpoena is issued by the court through the justice of peace or a court clerk.

There are three classifications of subpoena, they are;

  • Deposition Subpoena – this is an administrative summons issued to someone who is not a party to the lawsuit but holds records and evidence important in the lawsuit. This subpoena asks a third party to appear before the court to answer questions or provide records.
  •  Witness subpoena- this type of subpoena summons a person to go to court to testify as a witness of a case.
  • Subpoena Duces Tecum –  This is a court order that requires evidence or documents at a specific time and place in a court hearing from the subpoenaed individual.

Oftentimes, attorneys, whether civil or criminal request subpoena in case in order to strengthen their client’s claims. Failure to respond to a subpoena at the specified date and time is punishable under the law. However, in cases where the person who was issued subpoena had concrete reasons for being absent, that attorney can plead with the court for more time. If otherwise, an arrest warrant can be issued.

Information in a Subpoena

To know whether a subpoena is valid or adulterated, there are some information to look out for. A valid subpoena would contain the names of the parties involved in a case, the case number and  the name, address and contact details of the attorney that initiated the subpoena. Once an individual receives a subpoena, apt attention must be paid to the hearing date and time stipulated. This is to ensure that the person does not miss the date and time, thereby face a penalty. Also, the documents, evidence or records that have been required to be provided must be identified and kept till the hearing date. If it is a  business case, it is recommended that the recipient of the subpoena carries out a background check on the mawsuit and information required to be provided.

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