Summons and Subpoena: What is the difference?

Received A Summons Or Subpoena? Here’s What You Need To Know

If you have received a summons or subpoena, you are being expected to show up in court. However, while the two legal documents are similar in many ways, they are also very different in others. In either case, they should not be ignored. If you do look the other way, you could be facing anything from losing a lawsuit to possibly facing time in jail. To make sure none of these scenarios come to pass, here is everything you need to know about a summons and subpoena.

Purpose of the Documents

To begin with, summons and subpoena have different purposes when being served. When you receive a summons, it is similar to receiving an invitation. For example, a summons can be given to you informing you of a pending lawsuit where you are named as a defendant. In other situations, you may receive a summons to appear for jury duty. However, when you receive a subpoena, it is more like receiving a direct order from the court. In these instances, you are being ordered to appear in court to offer testimony, to turn over certain documents relevant to a case, or perhaps provide other types of evidence. Whatever the case may be, it is best to not ignore either of these legal documents and assume the court will simply forget about you. Instead, you should consult with a dedicated lawyer who can examine your situation and provide sound legal advice regarding how you should proceed.

Who Can Receive a Summons or Subpoena?

When a summons is issued, it is sent only to a person who is being named as a defendant in a lawsuit. Whenever a lawsuit of any type is filed, the law requires every person listed as a defendant to be issued a summons so they will have knowledge of the lawsuit and have the opportunity to appear in court and argue their case. As for a subpoena, it can be issued to anyone who is believed to possess certain information or evidence relevant to a case. Used extensively in criminal cases, you might find a dedicated lawyer who was handling your case would issue a subpoena for certain individuals to appear in court for testimony, or to perhaps turn over certain documents that could prove your innocence. In complex cases, a subpoena may be issued to persons such as witnesses or those deemed to be experts in certain fields relevant to the case. In fact, a subpoena can even be issued to companies, which is often the case when records or other documents are being sought for examination

What if I Receive a Summons or Subpoena?

As stated earlier, if you receive a summons or subpoena, it is never good to simply toss them aside and ignore them. Instead, you should take these legal documents very seriously and consult a dedicated lawyer to whom you can explain the circumstances surrounding your situation. If you receive a summons, remember that while it is essentially an invitation for you to appear in court, you are not legally obligated to do so. Should you choose this route, you then give the plaintiff in a case unlimited ability to argue their case against you, or for a judge to simply issue a default judgment against you. If you ignore a subpoena, be prepared for serious legal trouble. In most cases when a subpoena is ignored, the person will be held in contempt of court by a judge, which could lead to you having to pay stiff fines or even face a jail sentence

What Does a Summons or Subpoena Contain?

In most situations, a summons or subpoena will contain much of the same information. Generally, both documents will list the name of the court from which it was issued, a case number, names of the plaintiffs and defendants involved in the case, what the case pertains to, what you are being asked to do, and instructions on how you should respond and how long you have to do so. As for how these documents are delivered, a summons is usually presented to you in person by a law enforcement officer or a process server, while a subpoena is usually sent by registered mail. In either case, the court wants to be able to verify you did receive the documents.

Will I Need a Lawyer after Receiving these Documents?

Not necessarily, although it is highly recommended you schedule a consultation with one as soon as possible after receiving such important legal documents. While some people may be completely surprised when they receive a summons or subpoena, others were expecting them at any time. Yet no matter your circumstances, speaking to a dedicated lawyer as quickly as possible will likely help you avoid making a tough situation much worse through your inaction or failure to grasp the seriousness of the matter. Like many legal documents, a summons or subpoena may contain certain language or terms the average person may not understand. By meeting with an attorney and letting them look over the documents and explain them to you, you can make a much more informed decision on how you want to move forward.

What if I Can’t Comply with a Summons or Subpoena?

If you receive either of these documents and feel as if you cannot show up at court on the required date and time or do what is being asked of you regarding testimony or evidence, you may be able to petition the court to request a change. However, a judge has the discretion to approve or deny your request. For most people served with these documents, courts are very strict about expecting those served to do as they are told.

Since you never want to leave anything to chance when you have received a summons or subpoena, don’t try to handle the situation on your own. Instead, plan to meet with an attorney who can explain what is happening in easy-to-understand terms and give you advice that can be trusted.