The Power of Subpoena

If you receive a subpoena, it most likely means you may have information that’s needed by the court. Almost anybody can serve a subpoena, but failure to comply with a subpoena is a criminal matter.

What is a Subpoena?

Pronounced as “suh-pee-nuh”, the term literally means “under penalty”; but to our formal understanding, a subpoena is a request to appear in court to testify or present information that may support facts that are at issue in a pending case. Essentially, someone who receives a court ordered subpoena is obligated to comply, but has the lasting option to not comply; which may cause subjection to civil or criminal penalties, such as fines, jail time, or both.

There are two types of subpoenas:

  • Subpoena ad testificandum: requires individual to testify before a court.
  • Subpoena duces tecum: requires the individual to produce documents, materials, or other tangible evidence.

A subpoena may be requested in any kind of matter, though they are most commonly used for divorce, child custody, personal injury, and sex offender cases. Subpoenas offer attorneys a chance to obtain information to help prove or disprove their client’s case under state and federal civil and criminal procedural laws. Once a subpoena is issued, it may be served on an individual through either personal delivery or receipt acknowledgement requested.

Although there are two types of subpoenas, there are many examples of what a subpoena may request:

  • Blood test information
  • DNA samples
  • Computer files and downloaded material
  • Medical bills and insurance records
  • Income tax returns
  • Photographs, graphs, data and charts
  • Employee records

In most instances, a person who fails to obey a court-ordered subpoena, which is a relative command, will undergo civil or criminal contempt of court charges. Civil contempt occurs when the individual knowingly fails to appear as requested; thereby hindering the judicial process. Criminal contempt is more so punishment, and generally refers to disruptive conduct at court- which can also include refusal to turn over documents or other data. To be in contempt of court is to be issued a fine, imprisoned, or both; and will apply until the party in contempt agrees to perform his or her legal obligation.

Congressional Subpoenas

Congress has always been endowed with the authority to hold people in contempt, and in this case, contempt of Congress; so, it comes to no surprise that this authority was recognized relatively early in the US Supreme court, and later formally added to the US criminal code in 1857.

Here is an excerpt from Congress Research Service on the matter of Enforcing Executive Branch Compliance, which is available to read here:

When Congress finds an inquiry blocked by the withholding of information by the executive branch, or where the traditional process of negotiation and accommodation is inappropriate or unavailing, a subpoena—either for testimony or documents— may be used to compel compliance with congressional demands. The recipient of a duly issued and valid congressional subpoena has a legal obligation to comply, absent a valid and overriding privilege or other legal justification. But the subpoena is only as effective as the means by which it may be enforced. Without a process by which Congress can coerce compliance or deter non-compliance, the subpoena would be reduced to a formalized request rather than a constitutionally based demand for information.

Do you need court-used documents pertaining to subpoenas?

You’re in luck!

Our featured attorneys filed a motion to quash a subpoena for the release of state health records regarding marijuana use.

To view document click here!