In civil cases, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure outline a set of instructions relating to the subpoena process. Local courts may have their own rules of procedure which generally loosely reflect these rules, often with their own variations and changes.
Subpoenas must include the information of the issuing court, case reference information, such as case number, and detail the purpose of the action. Subpoenas typically must be issued exclusively from the court where the action was filed. Examples may include a subpoena requesting that you appear at a specific time and location, that you submit documents, or allow for inspection etc.
Some of the specifics contained in a standard subpoena may include:
- Command for deposition: You may be called for a deposition (“ad testificandum”) for purposes such as to answer questions about knowledge you have and to obtain your documented testimony which may be saved for trial. The command must indicate the recording method that will be used. Depositions allow both parties to an action to obtain the scope and nature of the individual's knowledge prior to their acting as a trial witness.
- Command to produce: Individuals may be asked to produce (“duces tecum”) information stored electronically, physical documents, or to permit access to property in your possession. This may be either included or be separate from a subpoena requesting your presence for a deposition. In addition, there may be a request to copy, test, or sample certain tangible items.
General examples of such requests in a personal injury case may include:
- Insurance or financial documents
- Medical records or exam results
- Credentials of expert witnesses
- Evidentiary photos or surveillance footage
When a subpoena is issued with demands, it must be served to the party, with notifications made to other parties. Serving refers to the process of formally delivering the subpoena to a party. The person delivering (serving) the subpoena must be at least 18 years old and may not be a party involved in the action. Service may be conducted at any location in the U.S. Service may be made to someone in another country in accordance with §1783. When it is necessary to prove service, the court must receive a document including the date, location, the manner of service and the name of the party that was served.
Avoiding Undue Burden
When a subpoena demands a party to be present for a deposition, hearing or trial the party must live or work within a 100 mile radius, or reside in the same state and should not require the party to incur unreasonable expenses. Courts should avoid forcing the party being served to accrue excessive expenses. When a subpoena demands a party to produce documents or materials, it is not required that the individual appear in person, unless the intent is for a hearing, trial, or to be deposed. A party who is served may make a written objection to the demand.