Legal Term Of The Day: “Subpoena”

Personal Injury
Definition of Subpoena

Darryl Isaacs, Owner and Managing Partner of Isaacs & Isaacs, P.S.C., a Louisville Kentucky law firm with offices in Lexington, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, submitted this post as part of a series to explain legal jargon to consumers.

If you’ve ever received one of these, you may have learned the hard way what a "subpoena" really entails. It can be scary at first, but not all of them are as ominous as they seem.

“In U.S. Law, “subpoena” from the Latin term meaning “under penalty,” is a written document and command from the courts requiring a person to take a certain action like appearing as a witness or handing over a piece of evidence.”

The issuance of a subpoena is not always attached to a lawsuit targeted at the recipient. It could be used in both civil and criminal cases to gather information that may not be willingly provided.
There are two basic types of subpoenas:

  • Subpoena Ad Testificandum (pronounced “ad test- tee-fee-kan-doom”) – This is a written demand for someone to appear in person, via phone, or video before the courts to testify about certain claims or events.
  • Subpoena Duces Tecum (pronounced “doo-seez tay-koom”) – This is a written demand for a person to turn over physical evidence like documents, photos or videos.

The delivery of a subpoena will often happen by hiring a processor, sheriff or bailiff. As the literal  meaning “under penalty” implies, a subpoena comes with consequences, which can involve fines and jail time, if not responded to within a given time frame.

There is also:  a "Deposition Subpoena". This type of written command requires a person who is not actually a party in the case to make a statement under oath or provide certain documents before any kind of trial begins. Deposition subpoenas are considered part of the discovery process in litigation proceedings

While the definition of the word might be more understood at this point, understand also that the need to comply with the subpoena is very real. The subpoena is a “demand” or “command” to comply, and in some cases, the failure to do so can result in serious consequences.

For more information, please speak with attorney Isaacs or check out his firm's legal term reference series. Visit his profile here.

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