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Reviewed by Jul 26, 2021| Updated on
A subpoena is a demand for the processing of records, or an order to appear in court or other legal proceedings. It is a court-ordered directive that necessarily requires a person to do something, such as testifying or providing information that can help support the facts in a pending case that are at issue.
The term "subpoena" means "under penalty". A person receiving a summons but failing to comply with its terms may be subject to penalties, such as a fine, jail time, or both.
There are two kinds of subpoenas. The first one, called the ad testificandum subpoena, demands that a person appears before a judge or other legal authority. The second one, called subpoena duces tecum, needs you to submit information, records, or other tangible evidence.
A subpoena may be sought in any matter, but divorce. Child custody and personal injury are the most common requests.
Subpoenas offer lawyers a chance to obtain information under state and federal civil or criminal procedural laws to help prove or disprove their client's case. For example, criminal lawyers often use subpoenas to obtain witness or evidence of lay opinion from a third party that may contribute to somebody's guilt or innocence at court.
Likewise, civil lawyers also call individuals to collect information that may help resolve the argument of someone. A lawyer representing a partner in a child custody case, for example, may give a summons to the other spouse to appear in court to decide joint custody arrangements.
In most cases, a subpoena may be given and signed on behalf of a court by an attorney. The attorney who is in law practice is allowed to issue a subpoena. If the subpoena is for a high-level government official, then an administrative law judge must sign it. A non-lawyer can, in some cases, issue a subpoena if he acts on his or her own behalf.