“I’ve Been Subpoenaed! What Do I Do?”
Under the law, subpoena is “a writ ordering a person to attend a court”. When a judge issues a subpoena for a person, this means they do not receive the choice to appear. It’s a must. Failing to appear in court in these cases results in serious legal consequences.
This Shaked Law Firm article explains why subpoena compliance is mandatory, not optional. What is a subpoena? What happens after being subpoenaed? Can a client ignore a subpoena?
What is a subpoena?
First of all, a question lawyers often receive from clients who receive a subpoena is “what is it?”. This is because they’re not fully understanding the legal weight it holds in court. A lawyer with adequate experience will first and foremost advise their client about the most important aspect of a subpoena. That is, that it cannot be ignored. No matter the plans a client may have that day, the subpoena must come first. There is usually no “rescheduling” of a subpoena due to the client’s schedule.
What happens if a client ignores a subpoena?
Next, it’s important to understand that ignoring a subpoena has severe consequences. A lawyer with good intentions never suggests clients ignore a subpoena. This suggestion puts the client at risk for serious legal consequences (such as arrest and jail time). However, should a client not heed their lawyer’s advice and choose to ignore the subpoena anyway, here’s what happens:
A subpoena is literally “a writ ordering a person to attend a court”. Being subpoenaed is not a suggestion to the person that they could show up in court if they want to. A subpoena is the opposite of a suggestion: it’s a legal requirement.
What is “failure to appear” after being subpoenaed?
After failing to appear, a judge can issue a warrant. When a warrant goes out, it’s possible a sheriff could pick up the person who chose to ignore their subpoena. Depending on the situation, the sheriff may even handcuff the person and bring them to the courthouse against their will. In these cases, the judge is not happy.
After arrest, the person receiving the subpoena must go in front of the judge. Here, they will explain why they chose not to appear after receiving a subpoena ordering them to do so. There are instances where the judge may accept the explanation. For example, if a family member passes away suddenly, or the person subpoenaed is in the hospital, the judge considers these scenarios. These decisions are solely at the judge’s best discretion. In these cases, the judge usually allows the person to walk away with a slap on the wrist.
What is a credible unforeseen circumstance?
After receiving a subpoena, a client should inform their lawyer if a situation arises in which they cannot appear in court.
Credible unforeseen circumstances such as hospitalization or death are extremely rare. Lying in an attempt to get out of a subpoena will not work. Documentation is necessary to prove the validity of failing to appear.
Thus, if the person has no excuse for failing to appear, a judge can hold them in contempt. If a judge places a person in contempt, he or she may sentence them to jail for days or possibly longer if the person has a history skipping out on court dates.
“I was subpoenaed! What happens now?”
Instructions regarding compliance are always found within the subpoena documents. After receiving a subpoena, the first thing a client must do is contact their lawyer and set up a conference. From there, the lawyer will look over the documents and give the client advice on what should follow.
How do I prepare for a court after receiving a subpoena?
The time to have ask questions about the requirements of the subpoena is prior to the court date. Scheduling a consultation with a lawyer as far in advance as possible helps give the client time to get their personal schedule in order. To reiterate: a subpoena can never be ignored. Therefore, a person should never wait until the day of their court appearance to ask for clarification on anything they’re not understanding.
Watch: “What Are Subpoenas?”
A lawyer with Board Certification has a full understanding of what a subpoena requires. When advising a client how to proceed after receiving a subpoena, there should not be anything that prohibits the client from complying. Don’t forget, Shaked Law Firm must stress the importance of appearing in court as the legal consequences of failing to do are severe.