Legal Term Tuesday: Subpoena

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Legal Term Tuesday: Subpoena

Legal Term Tuesday: Subpoena

Justin Lavelle
September 29, 2015

This is the latest entry in BeenVerified’s legal term library designed to help you better understand public record information, criminal records and related terminology. The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

A subpoena is a court-ordered request for information either in the form of documents or a personal appearance at a legal proceeding. What are the different kinds of subpoenas? What are some of your options when being served by a subpoena? And will having been served with a subpoena show up on public record?

Read on to find out.

FindLaw notes that there are two types of subpoenas. The first requires you to show up in person in a courtroom to participate in a legal proceeding. The second is an order to produce documents or other “tangible evidence” related to a legal case. FindLaw goes on to note that subpoenas can be used in any type of court proceeding, including child custody, divorce, personal injury and sex offender cases.

Subpoenas are typically requested by attorneys in order to obtain crucial evidence that will either prove or disprove his or her client’s case. Typically, subpoenas may be issued when legal counsel anticipates some form of resistance from the party to be called upon to submit evidence, according to the California Courts web site.

Common examples of the type of evidence that attorneys will subpoena include blood tests, DNA samples, income tax returns and computer hard drives, according to FindLaw.

A subpoena is served when a non-interested party notifies the person to be subpoenaed and then provides “legal proof of service” to the court that the subpoena was properly issued, according to While any person over the age of 18 can issue a subpoena, due to the uncooperative nature of many potential witnesses, professional process servers are often called in to handle the task, according to Black’s Law Dictionary.

While a witness who is served with a subpoena is not presumed to have done anything wrong, steep penalties can await those who fail to appear after being served, including being held in contempt of court and potentially jailed.

In terms of public record, subpoenas themselves may or may not appear as part of the permanent record of a case, according to state law. However, it’s important to keep in mind that any evidence submitted as a result of a subpoena likely will become part of the case’s record and often can be publicly searchable unless sealed at a later date, according to

Notable people who have been served with a subpoena include former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, Johnny Depp and Selena Gomez.


Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.