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Difference Between Summons and Subpoenas

Summons vs. Subpoena: What Do They Mean?

A common misconception is that subpoenas and summonses are the same. Although they are court-related documents, they require you to do very different things. One implies that you are “getting in trouble,” while another asks you to contribute in some way to an existing case. As such, let’s learn about the differences between summonses and subpoenas.

What Is a Summons?

A summons is a court document requiring you to appear in court. You may be required to appear in court for various reasons but you must remember that a summons does not mean you are guilty of anything. Summonses are issued at the beginning of a case because the court cannot proceed until you are summoned.

In civil cases, a summons will be sent to a defendant if they are getting sued and will notify them of the lawsuit against them. In criminal cases, a summons will notify the defendant that a criminal case has been filed against them. A summons may also require a person to appear in court for jury duty, among other reasons. Typically, summonses are issued by a person, such as an officer of the court.

Certain information is included in a summons, such as:

  • The court name and type that issued the summons
  • The name of the person or party receiving the summons (defendant)
  • The reason for the issuance of the summons
  • The case number
  • The name of the plaintiff
  • How and when to respond to the summons

Understanding Subpoenas

Like a summons, a subpoena is a document asking you to appear in court and does not equate to guilt. However, subpoenas can be issued after a case has begun and mandate you to produce evidence for a case. A subpoena will ask you to provide evidence that is connected to a case somehow, even if you are not directly connected to the plaintiff or defendant. In many cases, such evidence will be documents, samples, testimony or other relevant information. If you don’t do what your subpoena requests, you may be subject to civil or criminal penalties.

A subpoena may contain similar information to a summons, but some things may differ:

  • The name and type of the issuing court
  • The information of the party who issued the subpoena
  • The type of documents or other evidence needed
  • The date by which such information must be produced
  • The case number
  • A date, time and location for you to appear
  • A penalty for failing to respond

Have You Been Summoned?

Many people understandably get confused between subpoenas and summonses, but that could be costly. This is because subpoenas typically carry penalties such as criminal charges and arrest warrants for not complying with the rules, whereas summonses are generally notifications that a lawsuit or criminal case has been filed against a defendant. However, each case is different, therefore we urge you to remember that this information is merely a broad description of summonses and subpoenas and may not apply to your individual situation.

As such, our Santa Barbara criminal defense lawyers at Appel & Morse are here to help clarify any confusion you may have. Don’t make the mistake of failing to consult an attorney about your summons or subpoena, as it could result in getting criminal charges.

Contact us online or call (805) 467-6060 to learn more!