In the legal world, there are two main types of the legal document known as a subpoena: a subpoena to testify in court and a subpoena to produce documents. Generally speaking, a subpoena is simply a court-order that requires someone to take a specific action or else they will be held in contempt of court and sent to jail. 

For example, a subpoena to produce documents, also known as a subpoena duces tecum, is a court issued writ that orders the individual named in the document to produce documents or other forms of physical evidence. A subpoena to testify in court, however, refers to a writ that commands a certain person to appear in court for the purposes of providing testimony.

In some instances, a subpoena to testify in court may also be used to order a person to give testimony at a deposition. Briefly, a deposition is an investigative tool used to ask a party or another witness to answer questions under oath. Depending on what the order contains, some subpoenas to appear in court may request that the individual bring certain documents or physical evidence with them as well. 

If you receive a subpoena to testify in court, you must comply with the requirements provided in the order. This means you should appear at the specified location and on the exact date and time as is stated in the subpoena. If your subpoena also requests that you bring certain forms of evidence to the place where you are supposed to provide testimony, you must comply with these obligations as well. 

Again, individuals who fail to comply with a subpoena to testify will be held in contempt of court and sentenced to some amount of jail time. Therefore, if you do not understand the provisions of a subpoena or are unclear on how to comply with the court-ordered document, you should contact a local criminal lawyer for further legal advice as soon as possible. You should also retain a lawyer to learn more about your legal rights under a subpoena. 

Can I Refuse to Testify at the Hearing?

Generally speaking, a person who is subpoenaed cannot refuse to provide testimony. However, there are certain situations in which a person may have a legal right to deny giving testimony.

For example, a person may be able to refuse a subpoena to testify at trial if providing testimony under oath would violate the terms of a confidential and privileged relationship that is recognized by law. These include an attorney-client privilege or a doctor-patient privilege. 

Another scenario in which a person would likely be able to refuse to comply with a subpoena to testify at trial is if providing a truthful response to the questions under oath would incriminate them or suggest they were complicit in committing a crime. This is true regardless of whether the trial is held in a criminal or in a civil court.

It should be noted, however, that there are certain answers that a witness or party may have to provide while giving testimony. This can happen when a judge decides that a question is proper or that an answer will have no actual impact on the case. Thus, if a person believes they will be asked to answer questions that are personal in nature, they should speak to a lawyer about how to answer such questions and/or avoid incriminating themselves.

Can I Refuse If an Attorney Orders Me to Testify?

As previously discussed, a subpoena is a court-order to perform some type of task, such as providing testimony under oath or producing documents that are relevant to a case for a court. However, if a person does not receive a court-issued subpoena and they are not a party to the case, an attorney cannot order them to testify or appear at any kind of legal proceeding. 

Instead, an attorney will need to request and obtain a subpoena from a court in order to force a person to testify.

Therefore, an individual can refuse to give testimony if it is only an attorney that orders them to testify. An individual is also not required to provide information to the authorities if they are only a witness and did not receive a formal subpoena from a court. Again, being subpoenaed to testify means that the person will receive a formal subpoena from a court to appear at a certain date, time, and location for the purposes of answering questions under oath. 

Additionally, it is important for anyone who receives a subpoena to comply with the requirements contained within the document. Otherwise, ignoring a subpoena to testify will likely result in that person being held in contempt of court and sentenced to some amount of jail time. 

Will I Be Reimbursed for My Costs of Appearing to Testify?

Although this may depend on the circumstances, a person will only be reimbursed for the costs of appearing to testify in court if they are an expert or witness to a case. In such instances, the individual should be paid an attendance fee for their court appearance as well as be reimbursed for the costs of transportation. If the person is a party to the case, however, they will not be reimbursed for the costs of appearing to testify.

Again, while this will depend on the circumstances, a person will generally be paid by check or cash when they are served a subpoena to testify in civil court. In contrast, a person who appears to testify as a witness to a criminal matter will not receive their payment until after they appear and provide testimony in criminal court.

What If I Cannot Appear at the Time Designated?

A person who cannot appear at the time designated on a subpoena to testify should contact the issuing party immediately. In some cases, an individual who cannot appear in court or at the time stated for a deposition may be able to give testimony in written form, such as with an affidavit.

If neither of these options provide a solution to this issue, the person should consult with an attorney for further legal advice. An attorney may perform legal research to see if any grounds exist that would excuse the person from providing testimony. 

As previously mentioned, a person can face serious legal consequences if they fail to appear or comply with a subpoena to testify. Such consequences may include:

  • Being held in contempt of court;
  • Having to pay a fine; 
  • Being sentenced to some amount of jail or prison time; and/or
  • Having to pay the cost of attorneys’ fees.

Do I Need an Attorney?

As may be evident from the above discussion, receiving and complying with a subpoena to testify in court should be taken very seriously. Not only can you face legal penalties for failing to comply with a subpoena, but you could also possibly incriminate yourself when appearing in court and answering questions under oath.

Therefore, if you are the recipient of a subpoena or if you would like to subpoena someone else, then it is strongly recommended that you hire a local criminal lawyer immediately for further legal guidance. An experienced criminal lawyer can help you to protect your legal rights as well as can advise on when you may be able to refuse to answer a question if it would incriminate you.

Your lawyer will also be able to assist you in filing an objection to a subpoena. They can also see if it is possible to change the time that you need to testify if you have another engagement that would interfere with complying with a subpoena. In addition, your lawyer can go over your testimony with you and answer any questions you may have about being subpoenaed to testify under oath in court.