What should you do if you receive a court subpoena in SC?
Maybe you knew the subpoena was coming, or maybe it just showed up out of the blue – what do you do now?
Below, we will go over some of the basics of what to do when you receive a subpoena in SC, including:
- What to do if an attorney or investigator wants to talk to you,
- What will happen if you ignore the subpoena,
- Where you should go and what you should bring with you, and
- Whether you need a lawyer to give you advice about the subpoena.
When a sheriff’s deputy, investigator, or process server shows up at your home or workplace and puts a subpoena in your hand, what do you do next?
Odds are, the attorney who sent the subpoena has already contacted you, but you may still have questions. And what should you do if a court subpoena just shows up and you don’t understand why?
Answers to Common Questions About Court Subpoenas
What if an Attorney or Investigator Asks to Talk to Me?
If you are a potential witness in a criminal case or civil case, you have the right to talk to the attorneys and investigators – or not to talk to them.
Police, investigators, prosecutors, and even attorneys in private practice can make a request to interview seem very official as if you don’t have a choice but to speak with them. You do have a choice.
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t want to speak with you” before calling your attorney for advice as to how you should proceed.
If you do talk with attorneys, police, or investigators:
- Tell them the truth,
- Make sure you know who you are talking with,
- Ask them for identification, and
- Record the conversation if possible.
Once you receive a court subpoena, you may want to call the attorney’s office who issued the subpoena for instructions. Or you may want to call your attorney first, to make sure you know what your rights are before responding to the subpoena.
What Will Happen if I Fail to Appear?
If you fail to appear in court after a valid subpoena has been served on you, a sheriff’s deputy may show up at your home or workplace to take you to the courthouse, and you could be charged with contempt of court by the presiding judge.
When a subpoena is not valid, the appropriate response is to have your attorney move to quash the subpoena – instead of not showing up, you or your attorney should file a motion to quash the subpoena and explain to the court why the subpoena was illegal or invalid.
When you cannot appear in court on the date ordered, you may need to 1) contact the attorney who issued the subpoena and ask them to release you from the subpoena (in writing), or 2) have your attorney file a motion asking the court to release you from the subpoena.
Where Do I Go?
The subpoena will tell you the time, date, and location where you should appear, and there may be accompanying correspondence with additional information. Note that witnesses may not be permitted in the courtroom during a trial and may be required to wait in a conference room or other waiting area outside.
When you are not sure, contact the attorney who issued the subpoena or have your attorney contact them.
How Long Will I Be in Court?
Attorneys often subpoena witnesses to appear on the first day of a trial or other proceedings, even though they might not be called on to testify until days later (or not at all). If there are no instructions with your subpoena, contact the attorney who issued the subpoena to find out exactly when you will be needed and how long they expect your testimony to take.
If the attorney is not providing you with this information, you or your attorney should address it with the court – there is no reason for you to be sitting in the courthouse hallway for days waiting for testimony that may take a few hours or less.
Will I Need to Bring Anything with Me?
If your subpoena only instructs you to appear, you don’t need to bring anything with you unless you have evidence you want to bring to the attorneys’ or the court’s attention.
If your subpoena is a “subpoena duces tecum,” it will specify the items, documents, or other evidence you are ordered to bring with you.
If I Receive a Court Subpoena, Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you receive a court subpoena, you might need an attorney, if only to answer your questions and to make sure you know what your rights are.
If You are a Witness in a Criminal or Civil Case
Witnesses can easily become defendants in criminal cases – your attorney can make phone calls, communicate with the attorneys, communicate with the court, and make sure you know what to expect.
If you don’t want to testify, or if you don’t have information that would be useful in the case, your attorney can contact the prosecutor or attorney who issued the subpoena and possibly get the subpoena lifted. If the subpoena is invalid, your attorney can move to have the subpoena quashed – and, if the subpoena was issued in violation of the ethics rules, bring it to the court’s attention.
As a witness, your attorney can also let you know what to expect and prepare you for the potential questions you will face at the trial or hearing.
If You are the Alleged Victim in a Criminal Case
If you are cooperating:
If you are an alleged victim in a criminal case, you should stay in touch with the investigators and prosecutor’s office so you can stay informed and so you know what to expect when you receive a court subpoena.
Both the law enforcement agency involved and the prosecutor’s office will have a victim’s advocate who should keep you updated and answer your questions.
If you are not cooperating with the prosecution:
On the other hand, you may not want anything to do with the prosecution, investigators may be harassing or even threatening you, and you may not know what to do or where to turn.
In this situation, the defendant’s attorney cannot give you legal advice – you will need to contact an independent, uninvolved criminal defense lawyer, explain the situation to them, and ask for their independent advice as to how you should proceed.
Is the Subpoena Valid?
Believe it or not, prosecutors and attorneys in private practice will sometimes issue invalid, illegal, or unethical subpoenas. For example:
- A subpoena that comes from another state is not valid unless it complies with the requirements of SC law – the subpoena must come from a judge in your home state after being approved by a SC court. You must have been given notice and an opportunity to appear in a local court in your home state to contest the subpoena.
- Subpoenas cannot direct a witness to appear at “the Solicitor’s Office conference room” – there must be a valid court proceeding like a hearing or trial, and you cannot be subpoenaed for a forced interview with the prosecutor.
- Subpoenas cannot be issued before a case has been filed – if the subpoena’s caption says, “Investigative file no. 867999334,” instead of a Case Number with the Clerk’s Office, it is an illegal subpoena that cannot be enforced. Before a case has been filed with the clerk’s office, law enforcement must get a search warrant from a judge and cannot issue a subpoena.
If you receive an invalid subpoena, or if the prosecutor or defense attorney is threatening you, the best response is not to ignore it. Contact an independent criminal defense lawyer who can give you competent advice as to what’s in your best interests and how to deal with the illegal subpoena.
Questions About Court Subpoenas in SC?
If you have received a court subpoena in SC and you need advice about how to proceed, you can contact the criminal defense attorneys at Templeton, Mims & Ward at (843) 891-6100 or by sending us an email through our website to set up a consultation and find out how we can help.