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How to Respond to a Texas Criminal Court Subpoena
What is a subpoena?
Issuing a subpoena is the method by which state prosecutors and defense attorneys gather evidence in a case. It is the only mechanism used by criminal law attorneys to obtain witness testimony and/or obtain tangible evidence from a person or entity. The attorney who issues the subpoena is referred to as the “issuing attorney”.
There are two types of subpoenas in criminal cases: trial subpoenas and grand jury subpoenas. Trial subpoenas are used to command a witness to testify at a trial or hearing. Grand jury subpoenas command a witness to testify at a grand jury proceeding as part of a criminal investigation. Grand jury proceedings occur before the actual trial. They are used to determine if a suspect should even be charged with a crime. Trials and grand juries are very similar, but there are few differences. These differences will be discussed in more detail below.
What is my duty to respond to a subpoena?
If you receive a subpoena from a Texas criminal court you MUST respond to it by either complying or contesting all or part of it. If you fail to respond, the court may issue an “attachment”—an arrest warrant which commands an officer to take you in custody and bring you to the court to provide your testimony. As punishment, the judge has the discretion to keep you at the courthouse for the entire trial even after you provided your testimony (normally witnesses are permitted to go home once they have testified). Worst yet, the judge has the discretion to fine you up to $500 in a felony case and $100 in a misdemeanor case for failure to respond to a subpoena.
How do I respond to a subpoena?
If you get a subpoena, you can either comply with it OR contest all or part of it. In either case, you should contact the issuing attorney as soon you receive the subpoena. He or she will be more than happy to go over it with you so you can determine how to proceed. In fact, the attorneys on both sides will most likely contact you to go over the case and prepare you for trial. You are not required to meet with the attorneys to prepare for the trial, but it is in your best interest to meet with them since knowing all the facts will help you decide whether to contest or comply.
To comply, you simply appear at the specified time and place to provide your testimony and/or provide the tangible items (usually documents) requested by the issuing attorney. If you received a trial subpoena, you are allowed have an attorney present when testifying. If you received a grand jury subpoena, you may NOT have an attorney present while testifying but you may consult with your attorney prior to providing your grand jury testimony.
If there is a question as to whether you can or should comply with a subpoena, you must contest the part or parts of it at issue. This will almost always require an attorney. An attorney will know which grounds of contestation may apply to your situation and will utilize the proper method to raise such grounds on your behalf.
The most common grounds for contesting a subpoena include improper service, too vague or burdensome, privileged information, confidential information, and self-incrimination. Each of these grounds applies in very limited circumstances so the best practice is to consult with an attorney before responding to the subpoena.
The information in this article is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this or associated pages, comments, answers, or other communications should be taken as legal advice. The information provided is not intended to create, and viewing of this information does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.