Subpoenas are an essential part of due process and the legal system as a whole. They serve as powerful instruments to compel people involved in a case to provide testimonies or produce pieces of evidence that are vital to court proceedings. For these individuals, understanding how to serve and handle these documents can significantly impact the outcomes of their cases.

Learn more about serving subpoenas through these frequently asked questions.  

1. What is a subpoena?

A subpoena is an order that requires people to provide testimonies or documents needed for a court case. In essence, it’s a legal tool used by attorneys to obligate individuals to testify as witnesses or produce relevant records under oath at a specified time and court. The inability to comply with a subpoena can lead to serious legal consequences, such as court charges and fines.

Subpoenas play a crucial role in ensuring the fair and efficient administration of justice by enabling parties to obtain necessary evidence to support their claims or defenses.

2. What is the difference between subpoenas and summons?

While a subpoena is a document that compels people to testify or present evidence for a court case, a summons is an official notification that informs individuals or entities that a lawsuit has been filed against them. Unlike subpoenas, summonses serve the critical function of providing legal notice to defendants and informing them of their obligation to appear in court to defend themselves.

For example, in a civil case, a plaintiff may serve a summons on the defendant to notify them of the allegations and initiate the legal proceedings. Similarly, in a criminal case, law enforcement agencies often issue summonses to inform potential suspects of pending criminal charges and their requirement to appear in court for arraignment or trial.

Summonses can also be used in various administrative proceedings, such as landlord-tenant disputes or regulatory hearings.

3. What are the different types of subpoenas?

There are three primary types of subpoenas, and each serves a distinct purpose in the legal system.

  • Witness Subpoena: As the name suggests, this is where a court orders a person to appear in court and testify as a witness under oath. This is the most common type of subpoena.
  • Subpoena Duces Tecum: Translating to “subpoena for production of evidence,” this type requires the recipient to produce documents or records relevant to a case. It ensures the disclosure of relevant trial evidence.
  • Deposition Subpoena: This is issued pre-trial to require a person who is not involved in the lawsuit to provide copies of business records or appear at a deposition to answer questions.

4. How is a subpoena legally served?

Serving subpoenas is done using a systematized procedure to ensure compliance with state regulations and guarantee the validity of the documents. To understand this, let us take a look at how to serve a subpoena in California. Here is the standard process:

  • The plaintiff acquires a blank subpoena from the court clerk and fills it out with the necessary information, including details about the case, the parties involved, and the requested testimony or evidence.
  • The plaintiff makes copies of the completed subpoena.
  • The subpoena is served on the individual or entity named in the document. This is accomplished with the assistance of a professional California process server who ensures proper delivery and documentation of the service.
  • The process server files a Proof of Service, which will be returned to the court clerk before the scheduled hearing or trial.

By following the right procedure, you ensure that your subpoena is legally served and that the rights of all parties are respected throughout the proceedings.

5. What is service of process?

Service of process is the formal procedure of delivering legal documents, such as summonses, complaints, and subpoenas, to parties involved in a legal proceeding. It ensures that all parties are notified of their rights and obligations under the law and have the opportunity to respond appropriately.

So, who facilitates this process?    

The role of a process server in CA or any other state for that matter cannot be understated. They ensure the documents are delivered per state laws. And, in cases where it is difficult or impossible to serve the process, they have access to other resources needed for the process to move forward. For example, they can utilize a substituted service and conduct stakeouts or skip tracing to find evasive individuals. By finding people who are intentionally hiding from legal action, they guarantee that justice is served.      

6. Who can issue a subpoena?

A subpoena can be issued by various individuals depending on the jurisdiction and type of case at hand. Generally, lawyers have the authority to issue subpoenas on behalf of their clients. Judges and court clerks may also have the power to issue these documents, particularly in situations where court intervention is required. In some cases, law enforcement agencies and other regulatory bodies may also issue subpoenas as part of an investigation.

Regardless, it’s essential to note that only authorized individuals or entities can issue subpoenas to ensure their validity.

7. What are subpoenas issued for?

Subpoenas are issued and served for various reasons. Here are the most common cases where these documents are used.

Criminal Proceedings

Subpoenas are issued in criminal cases to call in witnesses to testify what they know about the case. In cases of assault or theft, for example, witnesses to the incident are subpoenaed to testify about what they saw or heard.

Civil Proceedings

Subpoenas are also often used in civil litigations to obtain evidence or testimonies. For example, in contract disputes, individuals who know the agreement may be asked to speak about the terms and conditions.

Inquest Proceedings

There are times when a person is arrested and detained without a warrant, or someone has died under suspicious circumstances. During the inquest proceedings, subpoenas may be issued to gather factual evidence to assist the court in making its findings. Additionally, documents such as police reports, surveillance footage, or other relevant records may be subpoenaed to provide further insight into the situation.

Professional Conduct Hearings

Subpoenas may also be used to ask witnesses to testify regarding alleged misconduct or violations of professional standards. For example, a subpoena may be issued to an accountant to discuss their accounting practices for a fraud allegation.

8. What are the deadlines for responding to a subpoena?

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 45 stipulates that a recipient of a subpoena should be given 14 days to respond after the document was served. However, specific deadlines for responding to subpoenas may vary depending on the state and the nature of the legal proceeding.

Generally, recipients are required to comply with the terms of the subpoena within the specified timeframe to avoid potential legal consequences. So, it is crucial for them to carefully review the subpoena and any accompanying instructions. This way, they can take appropriate action within the allotted time to fulfill their obligations.

9. Who may accept the service of a subpoena?

Typically, the one to whom the subpoena is directed should receive it. This could be a witness, a party to the legal action, or an individual or entity with custody or control of the requested documents or evidence.

However, there are times when the intended recipient is not present at their residence or workplace to receive such a document. In this situation, another responsible adult who resides or works at the same address may accept service on behalf of the recipient. Authorized agents or representatives of the recipient, such as attorneys, may also accept service of process.

10. Are there any penalties for ignoring or not complying with a subpoena, and what are they?

When a person ignores or refuses to comply with a service of subpoena, it is seen as a disregard for the court’s authority and the legal system itself, which is viewed as a grave offense. The usual consequence for this is criminal contempt of court. Under the 18 U.S. Code 402, the court has the authority to impose fines not exceeding $1,000 and jail time not exceeding six months upon a finding of guilt.

Other possible penalties include adverse inference and the awarding of attorney’s fees and costs to the party requesting the subpoena.

So, what should you do if you’re penalized for not complying with a subpoena?

If you are penalized for non-compliance, you should seek legal advice right away to understand your options and determine the best course of action. Depending on the circumstance, you may have grounds to challenge the penalty or seek relief from the court. An experienced attorney can assess your situation, advise you on your rights and obligations, and represent your interests in any legal proceedings.

It is essential to comply with any court orders or directives issued in connection with the penalty to avoid further consequences.

11. Will I receive payment for giving testimony required by a subpoena?

While you may not receive direct payment for giving testimony or producing evidence as stipulated by a subpoena, there are certain provisions that you can take advantage of so that you can attend court without financial stress.

Generally, employers grant their employees time off to comply with their obligations for the proceedings and cannot penalize them for doing so. However, unless there are specific contractual or legal provisions requiring payment, you may not receive compensation from your employer for the time off.

However, you may receive witness fees that you are entitled to for taking depositions for use in courts.

12. Who is responsible for the costs incurred in producing documents to comply with a subpoena?

The subpoenaing party handles all the costs incurred in producing documents for the service of process. These costs include witness fees in criminal or civil cases, as well as fees for the production of records or documents requested in the subpoena.

While the subpoenaed individual or entity is required to comply with the terms of the subpoena, they are generally not responsible for bearing the financial burden associated with the service of process.

13. What if I have no records to produce as described in the subpoena?

If you find yourself unable to produce the records requested in the subpoena, it is essential to understand your obligations and the appropriate courses of action. As the responder, you are only obligated to produce documents that do not exist or obtain documents that are not in your control.

In such cases, it’s advisable to notify the subpoenaing party in writing and clearly state that the requested documents do not exist or are not in your possession. You can also file for and attach an Affidavit of No Records to attest to the non-existence of the documents asked.

By following these procedures, you can fulfill your obligations under the subpoena while ensuring transparency and compliance with legal requirements.

Hire a Process Server in California From D&R Legal 

a professional California process server helping a client serve subpoenas

When it comes to ensuring prompt and accurate delivery of legal documents in California, trust D&R Legal Process Service LLC.

Our team is dedicated to providing exceptional service to our clients, from simple service of process to handling more complex documents. With our registered process servers, you can rely on us for reliable and efficient process serving across the state.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you with your process-serving needs!

Jason Burke

Jason Burke is a self-made man who knows that hard work pays off. He has dedicated his life to helping other people with their legal problems, and he loves every minute of it!

He has over 24 years of experience in the field, all of which are focused on serving papers. Jason serves papers regulatory and for the last couple of years has served almost everything in Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Western Contra Costa Counties himself.

He pepares every single proof of service that D&R Legal Process Service produces to ensure that clients receive the highest quality they have come to expect from them.

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