How to Fight a Subpoena

By Debra Stang
An attorney can help you file a motion to quash a subpoena.

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A subpoena is a legal writ or command for an individual to appear in court to give evidence or to produce documentation. Subpoenas are used in both civil and criminal matters. A subpoena cannot be used to force a defendant to incriminate herself or to force a person to testify about the criminal behavior of a spouse. If you have received a subpoena and wish to fight it, you must take action quickly to avoid being in contempt of court.

Preserve any documents requested by the subpoena. Your instinct may be to destroy the documentation that the subpoena requests, but this is a serious legal misstep. If the subpoena is upheld, you could be charged with obstruction of justice.

Retain an attorney who is familiar with the laws of evidence and who has experience with cases like the one that resulted in the subpoena. For instance, if the subpoena has to do with a criminal matter, hire an attorney who practices criminal law.

Ask your attorney to file a motion to "quash" the subpoena. The motion must be filed with the judge or the court that originally ordered the subpoena. The judge will set a hearing date so that both sides can produce evidence about whether or not the subpoena should be upheld.

Attend the hearing with your lawyer. Prepare to offer a reason, proof, or a case citation showing that the subpoena should be deemed invalid. Subpoenas are usually quashed if they are found to be unreasonable or oppressive, for instance, if the information they request is too broad or irrelevant to the other party's case. A judge will also quash a subpoena that violates the law in some way, such as by forcing self-incrimination or requesting information that has been barred by the statute of limitations or information that involves professional privilege.

About the Author

Debra Stang is a licensed social worker and freelance writer. Her work has appeared on Suite101.com, Bella Online, the National Association for Social Workers website, and Open Travel Info. Her brochure for bereaved families, "What to Do When a Crisis Occurs" won a Missouri Hospital Association award.

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