What Happens if a Witness Fails to Obey a Subpoena?
Transcript: Your case is set for trial and witnesses have been subpoenaed. What happens if the witnesses fail to show up for trial and fail to comply with their subpoena?
Hi, I’m Indiana personal injury attorney David Holub.
A subpoena is, in essence, a court order to appear at a set time and place, and it has the weight of an order from the court. Now, the court has many ways in which to enforce a subpoena, but if a witness fails to show up to court, one of the first things that will happen is the judge may request that the attorney who issued the subpoena call the witness and see if they’re just held up in traffic or something else has happened.
Sometimes, the judge will get on the phone and talk to the witness and explain that they have to be at court and that the court order has to be followed. If a witness fails to appear and disregards the court’s order to appear, the court has various options, one of them being that the witness can be held in contempt of court. That means the judge can issue an arrest warrant and have the individual arrested and thrown in jail and otherwise compelled to come to court.
I remember a case, not long ago, where a witness refused to obey a subpoena and the judge got the witness on the phone and the witness said, “Well, I’m busy right now. I can’t make it to court and I can’t really comply with your subpoena, your honor.” And the judge said, “Well, you just stay right there. I’ve had my secretary send the sheriff’s deputy to your house and they’ll be there in a moment.” As we stayed on the phone, we could hear the sirens getting louder as they approached the witness’ house. And then the judge said, “Well, you’re going to go with this deputy. The deputy is going to bring you to the courthouse and you’re going to testify, and then the deputy is going to take you home. Do you understand?” And the witness, of course, complied and appeared at trial, and testified, I think, very truthfully.
So what can happen when a witness fails to obey a subpoena?
Well, I’ve just outlined some of the key things that can happen and when we issue a subpoena be aware it will be enforced when we’re trying to protect our client’s interests we will ask the court to enforce the court’s order and make a witness appear.
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