What is the difference between a summons and a subpoena?

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A summons and a subpoena might sound and look similar, but there is a difference between the two as a Decatur lawyer can explain. If you’ve been summoned or subpoenaed by a sheriff, private service, or certified mail, you might be thinking “now what?” The following is a general explanation between the two followed by information on what you should do when you receive either.


Understanding a Summons


A summons is a an order given by the court requiring a person to appear at a hearing on a scheduled date. In civil cases, a summons may be issued to a party involved in the lawsuit. Usually the person who the complaint has been filed against will receive the court order.


Included in a summons or subpoena might be:


  • The name and type of court who has issued the summons
  • The case number
  • The names of the plaintiff and defendant
  • What the case is regarding
  • Information on when the summons should be responded to, and how
  • What is being asked of you


If you have been summoned, you may need to verify that you’ve received the court order. Often a summons is delivered by an officer of the court, who can confirm that you were summoned in person. The most common reasons to be summoned is because of a legal claim or a debt.


Understanding a Subpoena


In Latin, “subpoena” means “under penalty”. A subpoena is similar to a summons, but typically will ask that you do something or provide documentation prior to the court. You do not have to be a plaintiff or defendant in a case to be subpoenaed. For example, you might be a witness and be summoned for a statement under oath.

When You Are Summoned or Subpoenaed


If you have been summoned or subpoenaed by a court, you are legally required to respond by the deadline as a Decatur lawyer can explain. If you miss this date, consequences could result. For example,  if you were summoned by a small claims court as the defendant, and you fail to respond, you might lose the case.

If you have been subpoenaed, you will be required to submit information or appear in court. Usually a subpoena involves a recorded deposition taken under oath. If you fail to respond to a subpoena, a judge could find you in contempt of court. This could result in fines, fees, or even jail time.


With either court order, if you are unable to do show when required, or do what has been asked of you, it may be possible to request a change. Depending on the circumstances, a judge may or may not grant this request.

Do You Need a Decatur Lawyer?


Whether you should have a lawyer in Decatur help you will depend on your circumstances. If your summons involves small claims court, or  the issue is straightforward and simple, a lawyer may not be necessary. On the other hand, if your case is complex or involves significant potential losses, having legal representation could be invaluable. Either way, it may be a smart choice to discuss the matter with a lawyer to ensure you understand what is being asked of you. To speak with a Decatur lawyer today, call The Lynch Law Group