What is a Criminal Subpoena?

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  • Written By: Sara Libby
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 16 March 2020
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A criminal subpoena is a written court order requiring a person's appearance, or the production of certain documents in regard to a legal case. A subpoena is the term used in a criminal case, while the term “summons” refers to the same kind of order in a civil case. Often, the term subpoena is used for both types of cases.

There are two types of criminal subpoenas — the subpoena duces tecum and the subpoena ad testificandum. The subpoena duces tecum requires the recipient to provide specific documents or other items that are potential evidence in the relevant case. A subpoena ad testificandum, on the other hand, requires the recipient to appear in court or at an attorney's office to answer questions and provide testimony. It is possible for a criminal subpoena to require the recipient to both provide oral testimony and written evidence.

Criminal subpoenas are issued at the request of defense attorneys or prosecutors. They are granted by a judge, magistrate judge or court clerk. It is the responsibility of the party requesting the subpoena to confirm that the witness has been served. The issuing party is also responsible for any witness fees, such as transportation costs the witness might incur as a result of complying with the subpoena.


A U.S. Marshal, deputy U.S. Marshal, or uniformed process server over the age of 18 will deliver the criminal subpoena to the subpoena recipient. The person serving the subpoena cannot be someone who is a party in the case. Criminal subpoenas can be served anywhere in the United States, or in any U.S. territories. They can also be served in foreign countries, although U.S. Marshals do not serve them abroad.

If a person who receives a criminal subpoena fails to comply with its requirements, he or she can be held in contempt of court. A judge may issue a bench warrant for the violator, authorizing police to find the person and bring him or her to court. Failure to comply with a criminal subpoena can also result in fines and even jail time.

It is possible to request special accommodation in order to comply with a criminal subpoena, or to request a postponement. If a person served with a subpoena has a legitimate excuse for not being able to meet its terms, he or she should contact the attorney who issued the order to explain. If a person served with a subpoena has objections to it, he or she should consult an attorney in order to protect his or her interests.


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Post 2

Thank you for this information! Right now, I'm making the effort to contact the District Attorney for a valid explanation as to why I received a criminal subpoena two days ago and no replies yet.

The document states that I'm a witness but I wasn't there to see my car stolen and who did it. Either way, I have to go. The thing is, I have no car to go out of town where my car was taken to and trying to contact the court about my situation. Again, thank you for this information and it helped me a lot!

Post 1

Grand website for those of us who desperately need solid information that immediately alleviates fear and can act as our own attorney during the first go round. Thanks for caring.

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