If I received a subpoena/summons by mail to appear as a defense witness in a felony case across the country, am I required to attend?

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If I received a subpoena/summons by mail to appear as a defense witness in a felony case across the country, am I required to attend?

Do I need to respond? Is this an enforceable subpoena since it is a half-sheet of paper that was sent in the mail and forwarded from my former address?

Asked on December 31, 2014 under Criminal Law, California

Answers:

B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

In order for a subpoena to be enforceable, it must be properly served on a witness.  Usually, an out-of-state subpoena must be hand-delivered by a person authorized by the jurisdiction issuing the subpoena, or a court in the county where you now reside.  If you do not receive an out-of-state subpoena in a proper manner, then you are not bound to respond and appear.  Without looking at what you were actually served with, no one can tell for certain if it's enforceable online, but from what you have described, you have not been properly served if this was a subpoena to appear in another state.  Most of the states in the United States participate in inter-compact agreements, which have specific procedures for obtaining out-of-state witnesses.  This procedure usually involves the requesting party making an application to your local court.  Your local court will then hold a hearing and require you to attend.  If the requesting party is willing to provide you reasonable travel expenses, then the judge will approve the request.  If the requesting party will not pay any of your expenses and you cannot afford to attend on your own, then you will not be required to comply with the subpoena.  It does not sound like this procedure was followed in this case.  It doesn't mean that the requesting party was in violation-- often attorneys will mail subpoenas and "see if it works" at getting a witness to appear.  To know for sure if your subpoena is enforceable, try to find a local attorney to review your subpoena.  If you cannot afford a local attorney, then contact the district attorney's office that is handling the felony case you were asked to appear.  Let them know that you have concerns about whether you were properly served.  Keep in mind, however, that once you make this phone call, they will know where you reside-- which means either side could then take the proper steps to insure your appearance at court.


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