Summons vs. Subpoena – What’s the Difference?

Summons vs. SubpoenaSummons vs. Subpoena – What’s the Difference?

The terms summons and subpoena are referenced extensively in the legal world, so much that even if you’ve never been issued one before, you’ve likely still heard them mentioned countless times in movies or on television shows. With that said, most people tend to assume they are interchangeable.

Well, they don’t mean the same thing. The purpose of this blog is to define what a summons is, how it is different from a subpoena, and what to do when you are presented with either one.

Summons – Defined

A summons, also known as a citation, is that legal document you’ve often seen delivered by a big, burley Sheriff on television shows to an unknowing recipient on their front doorstep. It is a court order requiring the person who received it to appear in court, likely because someone has filed a complaint against them in either a civil or criminal case.

An example in family law is when one spouse sues the other for refusing to pay child support. A summons, or citation, must be signed by the person receiving it and marks the beginning of a legal case. It includes information such as:

  • The name of the court, a person filing the suit, and defendant (you)
  • What the case is about
  • Directions on how to respond to the summons

Subpoena – Defined

What causes many people to think a summons (citation) and subpoena are the same thing is that both are considered a demand from the court. But while a summons marks the beginning of a court case, a subpoena comes after a case has begun and requires the person who receives it to provide evidence that is considered important to the outcome of the case.

You can still receive a subpoena even if you aren’t directly involved in the case. For example, perhaps you were a witness to a crime or event and are being asked to testify, or you’re an expert who can provide critical documentation such as:

  • Income or employee information
  • Medical bills and insurance records
  • Evidence such as photographs, receipts, charts, etc.
  • DNA samples

What happens if you ignore or don’t comply with a summons or subpoena?

Bottom line: both a summons and subpoena should be taken seriously. They are letters from a court that command you to comply with the judge’s ability to rule in a fair and just way. A person who ignores or fails to obey a summons or subpoena can face civil or criminal contempt of court charges that include steep fines and possible jail time.

In each case, you will be provided a specific timeframe to respond. If you cannot do what is required by the court, it would behoove you to contact the court to request more time or alternative options.

Call Nelson Law Group Today!!

If you have received a summons or subpoena for any reason, it is always advisable to seek guidance from a knowledgable attorney. Give our knowledgeable staff here at Nelson Law Group, PC in Flower Mound, TX a call if you have any further questions regarding this – or any other – issue.

Give us a call today! For more information about Brett A Nelson click here.