Decoding Subpoenas: Definition, Rules and Your Rights & Responsibilities
Subpoenas are powerful legal tools that can compel an individual or organization to provide evidence or testimony in a legal proceeding. However, the world of subpoenas can often seem dauntingly complex.
A subpoena can arrive at your doorstep at any moment. You could be called upon to provide documents, testify in a court case, or participate in a deposition. Understanding what a subpoena is, and what it means for you, is not only crucial for your own legal protection but also for ensuring you fulfill your obligations as a citizen or a business entity.
The importance of this understanding cannot be overstated. A failure to respond correctly to a subpoena can have serious legal repercussions, while an over-compliance can infringe on your rights or the rights of others.
What Exactly Is a Subpoena?
A subpoena is a document issued by the court to compel someone to come to court and testify for either the defense or the prosecution. Another use for a subpoena is to compel someone to give the court evidence such as documents or other evidentiary items that need to be presented in court for a civil or criminal case.
Nevada has strict rules that cover subpoenas and how they are issued. If these procedures aren’t followed properly, then the person or items in the subpoena do not have to comply with it.
The court issues subpoenas when witnesses or evidence are reluctant to testify or to send evidence to the court that it deems necessary to move cases along.
If a witness or a person who holds evidence fails to comply with a subpoena, they can be held in contempt of court and even end up in jail depending on the severity of the case involved.
Nevada Rules for Subpoenas In Nevada
NRS 174.305-385 are the specific rules that govern how subpoenas are written and served.
A subpoena must be issued by the court clerk under the seal of the court and issued by a justice of the peace.
The subpoena must include the name of the court, who is being subpoenaed, and where and when the witness must go to give the testimony or evidence that is being compelled for the court.
NRS 174.315: This rule is for the defense, prosecution, or grand jury testimony from witnesses and how they can be compelled to testify with a pending investigation.
b: This is the Nevada rule about subpoenas that covers the production of evidence. This makes it clear that the court can also subpoena items such as books, papers, documents, and other objects that are considered evidence in a case. Both the prosecution and defense can inspect the evidence subpoenaed.
NRS 174.345: This rule explains how subpoenas are to be issued. Unless otherwise provided, a subpoena must be served by a peace officer or a person who is 18 or over and does not have any affiliation to the case that the subpoena is being served. All subpoenas need to be served to the person being subpoenaed by hand. If the person or evidence is being compelled for a misdemeanor case, physical delivery is not required. In this case, the subpoena can be mailed but must be sent to the last known address within ten days of the beginning of the trial.
NRS 174.365 states that a subpoena can be issued anywhere in Nevada.
NRS 174.375: This details how to issue subpoenas to witnesses who need to testify in a deposition. For witnesses to be subpoenaed to testify on a deposition, the witness will only be required to attend in the country where they live, work, or are employed. Also, they will not be required to attend a deposition that is more than 40 miles from the place where they were served and a place that was determined by the court.
NRS 174.325: Covers a subpoena for someone who is currently incarcerated to provide testimony. Depending on who provides the subpoena, that is the person who bears the financial responsibility for the cost of getting a prisoner to and from court to testify.
NRS 174.385 is the rule that explains the penalties for not testifying or providing evidence after a subpoena has been issued. The person can be held in contempt of court and even face jail time.
How to Get a Subpoena Issued
There are strict procedures for how subpoenas are served to potential witnesses or to get evidence to the court for either civil or criminal cases.
You or your attorney must file with the clerk’s office to have a subpoena issued.
For a civil case, a subpoena must be served by a peace officer, process server, or any other person who is at least 18 and is not a party to the case.
For a criminal case, a person must be served or given a written or oral promise to appear in court.
An oral promise to appear in court is only valid if the person accepting the oral promise must :
- Identify themselves to the witness by name and employment
- Identify the witness, and make a written notation of the date and time of the promise to appear
- Execute the certificate of service of the notice containing information from the above 1 and 2
For a subpoena for a preliminary hearing, it must include a court date to appear.
What if I Willfully Disobey a Subpoena
A subpoena is a legal document or order or appear in court or to furnish evidence to the court. Failure to do so may result in being held in contempt of court.
Contempt of court has many definitions but the one pertaining to subpoenas NRS 199.340 States that:
Contumacious and unlawful behavior or refusal to be sworn as a witness or, after being sworn, refusal to answer any legal and proper interrogatory:
Basically, if you refuse to show up after a subpoena is issued or refuse to answer questions you can be held in contempt of court.
Contempt of court is a misdemeanor and punishable with a maximum of 6 months in jail and/ or a $1000 fine.
When a Subpoena Can Work in Your Favor
If you have been charged with a crime, a subpoena becomes a powerful tool to get your case reduced or dismissed. Having a tool to help a witness testify or provide evidence can give you and your legal team access to information that can help you resolve your criminal or civil case.
Using a subpoena, your legal team can compel someone to testify in court, whether they want to or not, or to provide evidence to either validate or dispute testimony or evidence against you.
In a criminal case, both sides can use a subpoena to request witnesses or evidence.
Facing Legal Trouble? Hire The Defenders
If you are facing criminal charges, you need an experienced Nevada-based lawyer to tell you what evidence should be presented for your defense and how to compel witnesses and people with evidence to testify in court on your behalf.
On the other hand, if you have received a subpoena to testify in court at a trial or to present evidence in a case, it might be wise for you to consult an attorney who specializes in criminal law. You may not realize it but giving testimony can incriminate you in the case that’s pending or in other cases.
A defense lawyer can also help you if you have failed to reply to a subpoena or to appear in court. We can help get the contempt of court charge or the warrant issued against you dismissed or reduced.
The Defenders understands the subpoena process and how it works for all parties involved in a case. We can provide you with the best possible outcome from your involvement in a criminal case. Call The Defenders today if you are facing criminal charges or have been subpoenaed to appear as a witness in a criminal case.