What is a Subpoena Duces Tecum?

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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 February 2020
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A subpoena duces tecum is a written order issued by a U.S. court of law that directs a person or persons to furnish specific documentation to be used as evidence in preparation for a trial or hearing. The Latin term means “under penalty shall you bring with you.” The type of evidence sought typically consists of financial records, corporate books, insurance policies, accident reports, and similar items, and is usually requested by counsel representing either party involved in a civil law proceeding. A subpoena duces tecum is usually served upon an individual known to physically hold the documentation or supervise its maintenance, in which case the order will specifically name the person therein. In other cases, a subpoena may be served upon one or more qualifying representatives, partners, or officers if a corporation or government agency is in possession of the documentation requested.

The responsibility to be met by the party named in a subpoena duces tecum is generally two-fold. In addition to surrendering the requested documents, the party is also expected to personally bring them to the court at a designated date and time. The reason for this is because the party may be asked to provide further relevant information in a form of sworn testimony taken during an oral deposition. In certain cases, Rule 27 of the U.S. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a summoned party to forego oral examination and merely produce the requested documents.


Service of a subpoena duces tecum must be carried out via hand delivery to the party named within the summons or, in the event a corporation, non-profit organization, or federal agency is involved, a legal agent or representative. In the event proper procedure is not followed, then service is considered incomplete and void. Any person over the age of 18 that is not a party to the action may serve the summons, as well as an officer of the United States Marshal Service. It may be served in any U.S. state or territory. In addition, Title 28, Section 1783 (formerly 711) of the U.S. Code permits service on a person or persons in a foreign country.

Once served, opposing counsel may subsequently challenge the summons by filing a motion with the court to quash, modify, or vacate the order to appear. In some cases, counsel may seek a protective order in an effort to prevent duplication of the summons upon the same party or to secure the same documents. Motions of these types are likely to be granted if the court determines that the requested documentation is inadmissible for whatever reason, or if the information may be obtained in a more suitable manner that does not take up the time or resources of the court.


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