What is the difference between a summons and a subpoena? (2023)

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A Subpoena and a Summons are similar because they both give notice about a court proceeding. Differences between a Subpoena and a Summons include:

  • who they are given to
  • when they are given
  • what they are used for

What is a Summons?

A Summons is an official notice of a lawsuit. It is given to the person being sued. If you sue someone, they need to know about it. This way, they can come to court and fight the lawsuit. When you serve the defendant with a Summons, you officially tell that you are suing them. You must follow the rules for giving the Summons to the defendants to properly file your case. For helpful videos on filing court papers, see theLaw Basics Video Series.

What is a Subpoena?

A Subpoena is a court order. You can use a Subpoena to requirea person to come to court, go to a deposition, or give documents or evidence to you. You must serve the Subpoena on the person.

How do I send a Summons?

If you sue someone, you must serve them with a Summons. This gives them notice of the lawsuit. “Service of process” is the formal name for giving a defendant a Summons to come to court. Each defendant must get individual service. You must serve a Summons in one of three ways, or the judge can make a special order (see below) :

  • Service by the Sheriff
  • Service by a special process server
  • Service by Certified Mail (sometimes)
  • Electronically, by email, text or social media direct message (under certain circumstances)

Service by the Sheriff

Service by the Sheriff is the easiest way to serve your Summons. You will have to pay the Sheriff a fee unless you have a court order that waives the fee. To see if you qualify, readFiling Court Papers for Freeor watch our videoFiling Court Papers for Free.

If you want the Sheriff to serve your Summons, take the Summons to the Sheriff. You will need one original and two copies, with the Complaint attached to each one. The Sheriff will give the Summons to the defendant by hand. They can also give it to someone who lives with the defendant who is at least 13 years old. Next, the Sheriff fills out a sworn statement on the back of the copy of the Summons. Then, they file it with the Clerk of the Court. The Court must have a record that the Sheriff served the Summons.

(Video) Summon or Subpoena || Important Features and Sections in Summon || Legal Forensics

Service by a special [no-lexicon]process server[/no-lexicon]

A special process server is someone other than the sheriff who can serve legal papers. A Motion to Appoint Special Process Server is a written request to use one. Learn more about requesting a special process server.

Service by [no-lexicon]Certified Mail[/no-lexicon]

Some cases allow service by certified mail, such as a small claims cases. You do not need to have someone else serve the defendants. You may deliver the Summons and a copy of the Complaint by certified mail. It should be restricted delivery, return receipt requested. Restricted delivery means that only the person you addressed the Summons to can sign for it. A Return receipt is a green postcard that shows that the post office delivered the letter. Make sure you keep a record of when you sent the letter and to whom. Also, keep the green return receipt when you get it in the mail. It will prove to the court that you served the defendant.

Service by special order of the judge

If it is not practical to serve the defendant in the traditional ways, a judge may order an electronic method of service. The judge must be satisfied that the defendant/respondent can receive and read the summons and documents electronically. If so, the following alternative methods of service may be ordered:

  • Direct message on social media where the defendant has an active account,
  • Email, or
  • Text message.

In these cases, attach a copy of the summons/complaint petition, and any other required documents. You will state: “Important information—You have been sued. Read all of the documents attached to this message. To participate in the case, you must follow the instructions listed in the attached summons. If you do not, the court may decide the case without hearing from you, and you could lose the case.”

A copy of the summons must be sent by mail to the defendant's last known address. A proof of service must be filed when sending a summons electronically.

How do I send out a Subpoena?

Sometimes, a witness will not testify in court willingly. You can Subpoena the witness, which requires them to come to court. You can also use a Subpoena during discovery. Discovery happens before trial. It lets both sides find information and evidence to prepare for their case. During discovery, you can Subpoena a person to come to a deposition and answer questions. You can also get evidence from a person or company who is not a party to the lawsuit.

(Video) What is a subpoena?

To Subpoena a witness, you can get the form in the clerk’s office. Fill in the name of the case, the name and address of the witness, and the courtroom for the case. When you Subpoena a witness, you must pay them a witness fee and travel costs. The clerk can help you figure out the amount. Fill out the Subpoena and make out a check or money order to the witness. Then, you or any other adult may give the Subpoena and payment to the witness. You can give the Subpoena in person or by certified mail. Mail should be restricted delivery, return receipt requested. Make sure you keep a record of the delivery. You must be able to show that you gave the witness the Subpoena. You may also ask the sheriff's office to deliver the Subpoena and check to your witness.

During discovery, you can also get the Subpoena form in the clerk’s office in your courtroom. For a deposition, fill in the name of the case and the name and address of the witness. Also, fill in the place, time and date of the deposition. If you want documents, you must list what kind of documents you want in the Subpoena. Once you fill out the form, you or any other adult may give the Subpoena to the witness. You can give the Subpoena in person or by certified mail. Mail should be restricted delivery, return receipt requested. Make sure you keep a record of the delivery. You must be able to show that you gave the witness the Subpoena. You may also ask the Sheriff’s Office to deliver the Subpoena.

Can I ignore the Subpoena or Summons?

You should not ignore either a Subpoena or a Summons. You should talk to a lawyer if you get either one.

A Summons is an invitation to come to court. In some cases, the court will schedule a call or a video call for the first appearance instead. In other cases, the court will ask that you file an appearance or an answer.Your Summons should say so.

It is not anorder, so you do not have to do what it says. But, if you ignore a Summons, you will likely lose the case against you. The court will usually decide the lawsuit in favor of the person suing you. The court could decide that you have to pay money or that you must stop doing something. You will have to obey the court’s final decision even though you did not take part in the lawsuit.

There is one kind of Summons that youcannotignore. You cannot ignore a Citation to Discover Assets. If you lose a case and owe someone money, but do not pay it, you could get a Citation to Discover Assets. If you get a Citation to Discover Assets, you should talk to a lawyer right away. You should not ignore the Citation or fail to appear on the court date. If you do, you could face penalties.

You cannot ignore a Subpoena. A Subpoena is a court order to come to court. If you ignore the order, the court will hold you in contempt. You could go to jail or face a large fine for ignoring the Subpoena. Subpoenas are used in both criminal and civil cases. They can be given to anyone that might have helpful information about the case. This can be testimony or documents and evidence. If you get a Subpoena and do not want to testify or turn over documents, do not just ignore it. Ask a lawyer to help you figure out what to do.

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What if the Summons was not properly served?

If the other party serves you improperly, go to court on the date stated in the Summons and tell the judge. The judge should not let the case against you go on if service was improper. The judge will probably not throw out the case against you. Instead, the judge will probably let the plaintiff try to serve you again. If the plaintiff properly serves you on the second try, the lawsuit may not be over. However, if youfile an Appearancebefore telling the judge about the improper service,you give up the right to say that you did not receive proper service.

If you receive a Subpoena, do not ignore it. It does not matter if the service was proper or not. If you know about the Subpoena, then you should follow the orders in it. If you think service was incorrect, you should talk to a lawyer right away about your options and rights.

[no-lexicon]E-filing[/no-lexicon] in Illinois

E-filing is required in Illinois both for attorneys and people who are representing themselves in court. This may change the way serving a Summons or a Subpoena works. Check with thesheriffor localcircuit courtclerk for more information. The Illinois Supreme Court has informationregarding e-filing in Illinois.

(Video) What’s the difference between a subpoena and a summons?

Last full review by a subject matter expert

May 11, 2020

(Video) SUBPOENA o SUMMONS? - S02E31


What is the difference between a summons and a subpoena? ›

The main difference between a summons vs. subpoena is that with a summons, you are involved in a lawsuit, whereas with a subpoena, you are being asked to provide information related to a lawsuit.

What does it mean if someone summons you? ›

A summons is a court form which notifies the defendant that they are being sued and lists the day the defendant needs to appear in court (the Return Date). The court has no power to hear a case until the defendant is served the summons and complaint.

What is the purpose of a subpoena? ›

A subpoena is a legal document that commands a person or entity to testify as a witness at a specified time and place (at a deposition, trial, or other hearing), and/or to produce documents or other tangible objects in a legal proceeding.

What is the difference between a summons and a subpoena in California? ›

But while a summons marks the beginning of a court case, a subpoena comes after a case has begun and requires the person who receives it to provide evidence that is considered important to the outcome of the case. You can still receive a subpoena even if you aren't directly involved in the case.

Can someone not respond to a subpoena? ›

Failure to respond to a subpoena is punishable as contempt by either the court or agency issuing the subpoena. Punishment may include monetary sanctions (even imprisonment although extremely unlikely).

What does received a summons mean? ›

A summons is an official order to appear in court. She had received a summons to appear in court.

What does summons in a sentence mean? ›

an official demand to appear in a court of law: He was given/served with a summons to appear in court. He was issued a summons for improper display of license plates.

How can someone ignore a subpoena? ›

A motion to quash a subpoena may be filed if someone believes that it was not issued legally. Such a motion generally means that the subject of the subpoena can refuse to comply with it until the court has made a decision on the motion.

How far in advance must a subpoena be served federal? ›

Civ. R. 45(F) (requiring deposition subpoenas to be served at least 11 days before the date of the deposition)). The court's local rules may also require that the return date on the subpoena occurs before the discovery cutoff date (for example, S.D.

How do you respond to a subpoena? ›

For a subpoena that requires you to provide testimony or a deposition, you simply need to ensure that you show up at the assigned time and place listed in the subpoena. Depending on your situation and the questions you can anticipate being asked, you may want to seek the counsel of your attorney.

Does a summons have to be served in person in California? ›

(a) instead of personal delivery of a copy of the summons and complaint to the person to be served as specified in Section 416.10, 416.20, 416.30, 416.40, or 416.50, a summons may be served by leaving a copy of the summons and complaint during the usual office hours in his or her office or, if no physical address is ...

How long does a plaintiff have to serve a summons in California? ›

583.210. (a) The summons and complaint shall be served upon a defendant within three years after the action is commenced against the defendant. For the purpose of this subdivision, an action is commenced at the time the complaint is filed.

How do I answer a summons without an attorney in California? ›

If you decide to file a response, you must file it in the same courthouse where the lawsuit was filed. The address should be on the papers you were served by the plaintiff. Make sure you take your original plus at least 2 copies to the clerk's office to file. You will have to pay a filing fee to file your papers.

Can you plead the fifth if subpoenaed? ›

The Fifth Amendment can be invoked only in certain situations. An individual can only invoke the Fifth Amendment in response to a communication that is compelled, such as through a subpoena or other legal process. The communication must also be testimonial in nature.

How far in advance must a subpoena be served in California? ›

Serve the Notice.

If it is delivered in person, it must be served at least 10 days before the court date; For a Notice to Attend AND Bring Documents: You must have it served by mail at least 25 days before the court date.

Why would you quash a subpoena? ›

Some common reasons that a subpoena is quashed include:
  • Overbroad Subpoena. A subpoena is overbroad when it requests records that are not relevant to the instant case. ...
  • Overly Burdensome Subpoena. ...
  • Out of State Process Errors.
Jun 2, 2023

What does he summons me mean? ›

to order someone come to a particular place, or to officially tell someone to be present: The president summoned an emergency meeting of his advisers. I have been summoned to appear in court. To summon is also to find, call, or gather together something for use: I couldn't summon any strength.

How do I respond to a credit card summons? ›

Credit Card Debt: Guide to Responding to Court Summons
  1. Review the Complaint and The Summon. You should review the summon and look out for important details including: ...
  2. Calculate the Deadline for Filing A Response. ...
  3. Draft A Response to The Complaint. ...
  4. File the Answer Form. ...
  5. Serve Copies to The Plaintiff.

What is a civil summons in GA? ›

The defendant is usually notified by being served (or presented with) a copy of the complaint and a paper called a summons. The summons tells the defendant that they have 30 days from the date of receiving the summons to respond to the claims made in the plaintiff's complaint.

What is a civil summons in NC? ›

The Summons is the official notification of the lawsuit that outlines the parties involved, the court venue, and other basic information. The Complaint, on the other hands, lists all the specific claims that are being made against you.


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