I have received a sobpoena to appear as a witness in a criminal trial, can I refuse to appear?

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I have received a sobpoena to appear as a witness in a criminal trial, can I refuse to appear?

What are the consequences?

Asked on November 12, 2012 under Criminal Law, Florida

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

A subpoena compels the person served to comply with whatever is requested in it. Accordingly, if a person is compelled to appear and testify in court, they are under a legal obligation to do so. Failure to comply is a criminal matter for which there are penalties, this includes fines and/or jail time.

However if a witness feels that their testimony may implicate criminally in some way, then that person has protection. The Fifth Amendment gives a person the right to refuse to answer any questions or make any statements if doing so would result in establishing that they committed a crime. This right is also known as the “privilege against self-incrimination”.

So while a witness may be forced to take the stand, once they invoke their right to “plead the Fifth” their testimony cannot be compelled (i.e. a witness may not be forced to answer any incriminating questions).


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