What is a Subpoena and Do I Have to Comply With It?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jan 14, 2020 | 0 Comments

Subpoenas are powerful legal tools that courts and lawyers in Pennsylvania use to force people to testify or provide evidence in a pending case. Getting subpoenaed is a serious legal event, though, as you could face penalties if you do not comply with the demand.

Here's what you need to know about subpoenas in Pennsylvania.

What are Subpoenas?

A subpoena is a legal request for evidence. It can demand that the person subject to the subpoena produce either physical evidence or testify in a hearing or a trial.

In Pennsylvania, both courts and lawyers can issue subpoenas. However, they are not issued for little or no reason, and cannot be used by a lawyer – including a prosecutor – to get someone else to do their investigative work for them. Additionally, under 231 Pennsylvania Code § 234.1, subpoenas can only be used for cases that are already proceeding in the court.

There are several other aspects of subpoenas that limit how they can be used. For example:

  • They have to be served and delivered correctly,
  • They have to give the subject of the subpoena a reasonable amount of time to respond, and
  • They only apply to physical evidence that is in the subject's control or possession.

How are Subpoenas Usually Used By Prosecutors?

Subpoenas are especially common in white collar crimes, where certain people who work for a corporate suspect have control or access to documents or knowledge about a criminal offense. However, they are also used to force unwilling witnesses to bring evidence forward or face legal consequences.

Even the threat of legal penalties for not complying with a subpoena can be enough for prosecutors in Philadelphia to get one. They're often used to coerce someone who might have knowledge or evidence of a crime to “flip” and implicate the person that prosecutors are really after.

What are the Penalties of Not Complying With a Subpoena in Pennsylvania?

Subpoenas are powerful legal tools because they carry penalties if their subject refuses to comply. Under 231 Pennsylvania Code § 234.5, judges can issue a bench warrant for that person's arrest. If the judge determines that the failure to comply with the subpoena was willful, they can hold the person in contempt of court and assess penalties that can include:

  • Fines
  • Jail time
  • An assumption that the evidence sought in the subpoena is true
  • A prohibition against providing certain exculpatory evidence related to the subpoena or any related defenses

The nature and extent of these penalties are largely up to the judge. In some cases, judges have held subpoena violators in jail until they have decided to comply.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento

Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who can help people who have been served a subpoena. In some cases, he can help you fight the subpoena by showing it was improperly issued or that the information it wants is beyond its scope. In others, he can help you comply with it on your own terms.

Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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