What is a Federal Court Subpoena?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 26 March 2020
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A federal court subpoena is a legal summons asking a person to produce testimony or evidence for use in a federal court case. People are obliged to respond when they receive subpoenas, or they may be penalized for contempt of court. The subpoena provides information about where and when to appear, for those who choose to comply. People who want to contest a subpoena should retain the services of a lawyer to assist with filing a response to the summons.

In the United States, the federal court system includes the district courts, specialty courts such as bankruptcy courts, courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court of the United States. A federal court subpoena will provide information about the case, including the title and case number, along with information about the court. It should include a date and time and indicate what the subject of the subpoena is being asked to produce.


A subpoena ad testificandum asks the subject to appear in court to testify. This type of subpoena is issued to someone who may have been a witness to a crime or who has other information that would be relevant to the case. A subpoena duces tecum asks a person to submit evidence such as documents or recordings to the court. Both types of subpoena can be contested if someone feels that the federal court subpoena was improperly issued or if a hardship is involved in responding. For example, if someone is asked to retrieve electronic data that is difficult to access, they can fight a subpoena.

The federal court subpoena must be served to someone by a process server. When someone is served with a subpoena, it is important to be aware that the process server often knows very little about the case and may not be able to answer very many questions. The document should be reviewed and a lawyer should be contacted if one is needed. It is important to work with an attorney who is accustomed to practicing in courts at the federal level.

People should not ignore federal court subpoenas. A response is mandatory. Failure to comply with a subpoena can result in fines and jail time. Even if a subpoena appears to be issued in error to the wrong person, an attorney should still be secured to respond to the summons and clear the matter up. The federal court subpoena and any related documents, including copies of responses sent to the court should be stored in a secure place so that they can be referred to as needed.


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Post 2

@TreeMan - To be honest you do not want to miss court period no matter whether it is with a state level court or a federal court.

I really feel like both the penalties are similar. It may vary depending on the cases and how hostile the person who missed court may act, but when one receives a federal subpoena they really should not mess around and make that their first priority.

Most of the time when someone is subpoenaed by a federal court it means that it is not a nickel and dime case and is something that is probably pretty important, because most federal cases have a lot put into them and usually concerns something pretty important.

I would suggest that anyone that receives a federal subpoena should tell their boss right away and contact to court to let them know that you are making arrangements to prepare everything for your day in court.

Post 1

I do not know much about the legal system but I know the difference between federal and state courts and I really feel like a federal subpoena would be something that one would really want to pay attention to because they would be penalized by federal law and not state law.

I know that both are serious if one does not show up to court, but I would think that it would be more serious if one did not show up to federal court.

I do not know what the exact penalties for not showing up to court for, but I would figure they would be pretty stiff, especially for federal court.

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