A subpoena is a legal document that orders a person or an entity to provide potential evidence for an investigation or legal proceeding at a specified date and time. Depending on the type of subpoena issued, you could be commanded to provide oral testimony, permit inspection of premises, produce documents, information, or objects, or all of the above. In federal court proceedings, a subpoena can take the following titles: Subpoena To Testify at a Deposition In A Civil Action; Subpoena To Appear And Testify At A Hearing Or Trial In A Civil Action; or Subpoena To Produce Documents, Information, Or Objects Or To Permit Inspection of Premises. In state court proceedings, the titles of subpoenas vary from state to state.
What is a Hearing and How is it Different From a Trial?
A hearing is a proceeding before a court. A hearing is usually shorter and less formal than a trial. Typically, hearings are conducted to address narrow issues in a case such as, for example, to resolve discrete issues of law, to determine how the trial will proceed, or to determine if the the case can be decided without a trial. A witness who provides testimony at a hearing or a trial must testify truthfully under the penalty of perjury. The testimony is recorded by a court reporter or by digital voice recording, or both. Unlike some trials, there is no jury present at a hearing.
What is a Deposition?
A deposition is a process used to obtain oral testimony of a witness (referred to as the "deponent") outside of court which allows parties in a litigation to gather information in preparation for trial. The deponent's testimony is transcribed in writing by a court reporter and oftentimes also recorded by video. Similar to a hearing or trial, the deponent must testify truthfully under the penalty of perjury. Depositions typically take place at a law firm and the attorney who has requested the deposition questions the witness. Deponents are usually represented by an attorney who will protect the witness from ambiguous questions, harassment, and/or undue burden.
What if the Subpoena Commands Attendance?
If the subpoena commands your attendance for a deposition, hearing, or trial, the subpoena must be accompanied with fees for one day's attendance and the mileage for traveling to the specified location. However, there are certain geographic limitations as to how far a subpoena can compel someone to travel. First, for attendance at a hearing or deposition or the production of documents to a specific location, a subpoena may only command someone to travel within 100 miles of where he or she resides, is employed, or regularly transacts business in person. If the requested attendance is for a trial, a subpoena may only command someone to travel within 100 miles or within the state where he or she resides, is employed, or regularly transacts business in person, as long as doing so would not incur substantial expense. Secondly, if the subpoenaed person is a party to the lawsuit or a party's officer, a subpoena may only command that person to travel within the state where he or she resides, is employed, or regularly transacts business in person.
What if the Subpoena Orders Production of Documents or Things?
If the subpoena orders you to produce documents or things or to permit inspection or premises without also commanding your appearance for a deposition, hearing or trial, then you do not need to appear in person at the place of production or inspection. You should know that the law protects people from undue burden created by subpoenas. Therefore, just because a subpoena contains numerous categories of requests for production of documents or things does not mean that you are automatically required to produce everything that falls under the full scope of the requests. Similarly, just because a subpoena commands inspection of large premises does not mean that you are automatically required to permit such inspection. An experienced attorney can help you determine the proper scope of the subpoena by which you must comply, and the objections that you can raise to the requests in a subpoena, if any.
Do I have to Respond to the Subpoena?
It is extremely important that you respond to the subpoena. Failure to respond to and/or obey a subpoena can cause you to be held in contempt of court. If you have objections to the subpoena, they must be in writing and served on the party or the attorney designated in the subpoena. You must serve your objections either 14 days from the date the subpoena was served, or by the time specified for compliance, whichever occurs first. Failure to object appropriately and timely will result in a waiver of critical objections, which could have devastating effects to your rights.
Can I Challenge a Subpoena?
You may also request that the court quash or modify a subpoena. A court will grant your request to quash a subpoena if you can show that the subpoena meets any of the following criteria: fails to allow someone reasonable time to comply, requires a person to comply beyond the geographical limits allowed by law, requires disclosure of privileged or protected material, or subjects a person to undue burden.
Should I Hire an Attorney?
It is tremendously advantageous to hire an attorney to help you prepare a timely response to a subpoena, or a request to quash a subpoena. An experienced attorney will have knowledge of the proper objections you should make, if any. If the subpoena commands the production of documents or things, an attorney can advise you of the proper procedures and requirements you must follow. Additionally, an attorney can help you determine the proper scope of the requests by which you must comply, as well as what information can be withheld under a claim of privilege. An attorney can also help with negotiations with the party who served the subpoena, to determine what information the party truly needs from you and if the party is willing to narrow the scope of the subpoena. If your testimony is requested, an attorney can prepare you for your deposition or appearance at a hearing or trial. Lastly, an attorney can attend the deposition, hearing, or trial with you and defend you to ensure that your rights are protected.
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