Be a Witness: The Basics of Subpoenas

An agency can serve a subpoena in New York. These people mean business. You are dealing with the law, after all. They will provide assurance that the subpoena will be delivered to the right person and will do so by all legal means. But what if you are the one at the receiving end? What are your rights? Here are a few things that you should know about subpoenas:

The Subpoena

This is a court order for a person to appear in court. The purpose may vary. The main three are as follows:

  • Subpoena ad testificandum. This is presented to a person as a request to stand as a witness.
  • Subpoena duces tecum. This is given to a person or organization as an order to provide evidence.
  • Information subpoena. With this subpoena, the court requests for information. This subpoena comes as a written form. A set of questions will be sent to the person, who is then obligated to answer it. The recipient is given seven days to respond.

If you have been served a subpoena, do not take it as bad news. It just means that you can be instrumental in helping resolve a case. If you are being asked as a witness and clear of conscience, there’s no reason to worry. You only need to tell the truth. Just know that you are helping someone with your statements. The same goes for when physical evidence is asked of you.


As it is an order brought down by the court, it should not be ignored. When you fail to respond, you may be charged with contempt of court. Since you will have time away from your life obligations, you will be entitled to receive a witness fee of $15 per day. If you live outside New York City, an additional fee of $0.23 per mile will be given. This will be based on the distance from where the subpoena has been delivered up to the court where the witness will appear.

If you are not directly involved in a case but are knowledgeable in a certain field, you may be asked to be an expert witness. For example, if a criminal case has a defendant citing insanity as the reason why the crime was committed, a psychologist may be asked to explain this condition to confirm it. This has a corresponding expert witness fee.

Your Rights

If you are healthy and able, you need to follow this order. You may contest its validity if you are sure that it is not going to be helpful or relevant to the case. It’s best to present your objections, should you have some, at court. If you cannot appear due to serious illness or disability or are someone who is deemed not mentally fit, you may be considered for an exemption.

It’s understandable why subpoenas are viewed by some as something scary. The negative connotation comes from the fact that you will be involved in a court hearing—some may associate you with the case itself. You need to ignore them. Remember that this is your obligation to the law and that you should abide by it. There is no harm in that.

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