Subpoena vs Summons Which Do You Need

Dec 6 2017 | posted by LORR Team

There’s a very specific procedure to the justice system, whether criminal or civil in nature. But the specific procedure is often so specific that it can be overwhelming when you’re dealing with someone who’s unfamiliar with the procedure, whether it’s you, a new intern, or a client.

What is a Summons?

When a civil case is filed, the defendant is served a summons. The summons gives power of court over that person, calling them to appear before the judge so their cases may be heard.

Generally, when one is served a summons for a civil case it’s by a licensed private investigator, or sheriff, or in some cases certified mail with a signed receipt is sufficient.

If one doesn’t respond to the summons, the case will be heard without them, and their absence is taken as an admission of fault and the court will (in almost every case) rule in favor of the plaintiff.


Simply put, a subpoena is a court order to appear and present evidence. This includes their witness testimony if it’s required. They’re used in both criminal and civil cases, and that’s where the testimony is often the most used occasion of a subpoena.

For civil cases, it’s simply an order to produce evidence. Such as proof of assets, medical records, or any other kind of relevant record keeping that the case may require.

Unlike a summons, there are legal consequences to ignoring a subpoena other than a judgment against you. If a subpoena is ignored it can lead to a charge of “contempt of court” which is punishable by fine, jail, or in some cases depending on the severity of the issue: both.

So which do you need?

Ask yourself a few questions first:

  • Are you starting the process of suing someone?
    • If “yes”, then you need a summons to appear before the judge.
  • Do you need someone to come to court who’s not being sued?
    • You’re more than likely in need of a subpoena. Especially if they’re unwilling to share their evidence.
  • Are you looking to get a testimony from someone?
    • Then you’re looking for a subpoena rather than a summons
  • Are you suing someone who owes you money, and suspect they can pay, but isn’t?
    • That’s a two-parter. If you’ve already had a judgment served against them, and they still don’t make any attempt to make good on the debt, a subpoena for proof of assets.

Answering any or all of these questions will help guide you down the path you’ll need to go to determine the future of your case. Any civil trial is difficult, and it’s just necessary to move forward and deal with it the least painful way possible.

Whatever your case may need, it’s always best to contact a legal professional or someone with legal experience. Law and Order Record Retrieval can help most legal cases. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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