Imagine that you’ve had the misfortune to witness an automobile accident. The case has since escalated, and at least one party to the lawsuit has chosen to subpoena you, hoping that the information you possess will help them either prove or defend their case.
What can you do now? Do you have any rights at all?
Serving as a Witness in a Personal Injury Case
Subpoenas come in two distinct flavors. The “subpoena ad testificandum,” or subpoena to testify, compels you to appear as a witness in someone’s case. This may entail giving a deposition during the pretrial discovery period or providing live testimony during the trial itself. The party that issues your subpoena must pay you a daily witness fee and reimburse your travel expenses.
While it does not always force you to appear in person, the “subpoena duces tecum,” or subpoena to produce evidence, does demand that you release from your possession any documentation pertaining to the case. You must either produce these proofs in their logical order of creation or label them according to category. It is not sufficient simply to make copies, throw them together and consider your job done.
Some such subpoenas also expect you to give a deposition, but if you are able to turn over these papers in a timely manner, most will excuse you from showing up in person. They may, however, insist that you submit a signed affidavit attesting to the documents’ authenticity.
Who Can Issue a Subpoena?
The subpoena you receive can legally originate with:
- The case’s presiding judge.
- The clerk of the associated court.
- The district attorney.
- The attorney general.
- A lawyer for one of the lawsuit’s parties.
If you have any doubts about the document’s validity, do not hesitate to contact the person who signed it or check with an attorney.
Rules for Serving a Subpoena
An improperly served subpoena can quickly lose its power. According to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the server must:
- Be at least 18 years of age.
- Present the subpoena in person.
- Have no personal stake in the case.
When a subpoena’s serving fails to meet these specifications, the court might modify its demands or terminate it entirely.
Not Responding to a Subpoena
Once you’ve received a proper subpoena, you must treat it with respect. If you ignore its demands, the court will charge you with contempt and might even lock you up until you agree to comply.
Anyone who responds to a subpoena has the right to recover any associated expenses. In addition to covering your travel costs, the party that issued it must pay you a daily witness fee and reimburse you for any copies it has ordered you to make. The actual amount of your compensation will vary from one jurisdiction to another.
What Constitutes a Valid Subpoena?
The subpoena you receive must respect your rights. In addition to allowing you a reasonable amount of time in which to comply, it must refrain from burdening you with excessive demands. For example, unless certain exceptions apply, it cannot insist that you travel further than 100 miles from your accustomed location.
Perhaps most importantly, the subpoena may not force you to disclose privileged information. This means that you need not give away:
- Trade secrets.
- Commercial information.
- Confidential development or research data.
- Facts unrelated to the case at hand.
- The opinion or research of an uninvolved expert.
If your subpoena demands any of these things or fails to spell out your protections, the court may disallow it.
Getting Out of Dodge
While most subpoenas are binding, the courts may excuse you from testifying if:
- Your testimony would violate your Fifth Amendment rights.
- You are the defendant in a criminal proceeding.
- The case involves your spouse in some way.
- Your statements would force the disclosure of privileged information.
- Your age or physical condition renders you incapable of giving reliable or accurate testimony.
Receiving the Protections You Deserve
If you should receive a subpoena, you need above all to understand your legal options. The request that seems straightforward on its face can ultimately put you in a vulnerable position. If you feel the least bit uncertain, the personal injury attorneys at Weiner Law Group will help to safeguard your rights and ensure that you receive the greatest protection possible.