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What Is A Subpoena?

In U.S. Law, “subpoena” from the Latin term meaning “under penalty,” is a written document and command from the courts requiring a person to take a certain action like appearing as a witness or handing over a piece of evidence.

Attorneys use subpoenas to get the information required to prove or disprove the claims presented in both civil and criminal cases.

1-min audio clip with attorney Darryl Isaacs, discussing subpoena:

Subpoena legal definitionThere are two basic types of subpoenas:

subpoena ad testificandum (pronounced “ad test- tee-fee-kan-doom”) – This is a written demand for someone to appear in person, via phone, or video before the courts to testify about certain claims or events.

subpoena duces tecum (pronounced “doo-seez tay-koom”) – This is a written demand for a person to turn over physical evidence like documents, photos or videos.

The delivery of a subpoena will often happen by hiring a processor, sheriff or bailiff. As the literal meaning “under penalty” implies, a subpoena comes with consequences, which can involve fines and jail time, if not responded to within a given time frame.

Quote on subpoena document.

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Related terms:

DEPOSITION SUBPOENA: This type of written command requires a person who is not actually a party in the case to make a statement under oath or provide certain documents before any kind of trial begins. Deposition subpoenas are considered part of the discovery process.

1-Minute Video defining subpoena:

What Does Subpoena Mean? – Let’s Break It Down in Layman’s Terms:

A subpoena typically begins its life in the courtroom when it gets written up by a clerk, lawyer or approved officer of the court. From there it will get delivered or “served” to the appropriate persons, with the attorneys often hiring a sheriff to keep it official and to guarantee the order is received. Once received, the clock starts and certain actions must be taken or the recipient will face legal consequences. The goal of a subpoena is to get information essential to a case that might not otherwise be obtainable with a simple request.

You might hear “subpoena” used like this, here’s what it means:

“She’s not going to hand over her income tax return, we’ll have to subpoena those documents from her.”

The person involved in the dispute is refusing to voluntarily hand over the documents we need to review. We’ll have to get the courts to require her to do it or face legal penalties.

(Note: In this circumstance, subpoena is actually used as a verb)

“The files on that computer are now under subpoena.”

The court has issued the demand for computer files to be turned over as evidence.

Recently added glossary terms:

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