You’re sitting at home minding your own business when a knock at the door shatters your mood. Standing on your step is a police officer with a subpoena that has your name on it.
What do you do?
Once the understandable feelings of shock and confusion begin to fade, your first call should be to your lawyer to make sure you understand the terms of the subpoena.
Are All Subpoenas the Same?
Let’s start with explaining the definition of a subpoena. Essentially, it’s a part of the Indiana rules of criminal procedure and is an order from the court for you to take action.
That brings us to our next point: there are three basic forms of subpoenas.
- Witness subpoena. If you receive one of these, it’s because you either witnessed a crime occur or authorities believe you may have information about the person suspected of committing the crime.
- Subpoena duces tecum (Latin for “subpoena for production of evidence”). This type of subpoena is a requirement to produce items of interest to the court. This can be documents or other types of evidence the court feels are relevant to a particular case.
- Deposition subpoena. These subpoenas are reserved for those whose testimony is required during the hearing of a case.
The text of the subpoena should provide you with all the information you need to determine your next action. It will outline what’s expected of you, the name of the attorney who initiated the process, names of the people involved in the case and courtroom information.
At its heart, a subpoena is a tool used by lawyers to get more information – or evidence – for their client’s case. Because attorneys from both sides have the power to initiate the subpoena process, they each have the ability to get the evidence they need.
What Happens if I Ignore a Subpoena?
The worst thing you can do after receiving a subpoena is to ignore it. Doing so puts you at risk of serious legal problems.
For ignoring the subpoena, the court issuing it could charge you with contempt – which can easily lead to jail time and heavy fines.
How Are Subpoenas Served?
One of the lawyers in the case gets the ball rolling with requesting that the court clerk issue a subpoena. After it’s processed, the subpoena is then ready for service.
Here in Indiana, the approved methods of serving a subpoena are:
- Hand delivery by a police officer, court courier or employee of the law firm
- Certified mail
- Mail sent to the last known address of the person, or
- Reading it aloud to the person either face-to-face or over the telephone.
These are the only approved methods for delivering subpoenas in Indiana. If this process is not observed, the subpoena’s authority may not be recognized.
What Should I Do After Being Served With a Subpoena?
Again, ignoring a subpoena is not an option. If you are reluctant to appear in court or produce the requested evidence, your best course of action is to talk with a criminal defense attorney.
Your response needs to be measured, and an attorney can guide you through the process of coming up with an appropriate response without putting you at risk legally.
An added benefit of immediately speaking with a defense attorney is that if further legal action is threatened, you already have a powerful ally by your side.
How Do I Get Out of a Subpoena?
If you do not want to comply with the subpoena, there is a pathway to move forward. It’s called “objecting to the subpoena.”
To do this, your attorney will need to provide the lawyer who initiated the process with your written objections before the deadline stated on the document or within 14 days of receiving it.
There are valid reasons many courts will accept for not complying with a subpoena.
- Complying would cause an undue burden. Let’s say you’re subpoenaed to appear in court as a witness involving someone suspected of driving under the influence, but the date conflicts with your work and the jurisdiction is more than 100 miles away. If you’re not an involved part of the case, you can reasonably argue that complying would lead to problems for you.
- The requested information is protected. The judge has the authority to toss out a subpoena in certain situations. For example, if the requested information is ruled to be confidential or a trade secret, the judge may choose to quash it.
Again, regardless of your response, make sure you have the advice of a skilled defense lawyer before replying to a subpoena.