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?

UPDATED: Dec 31, 2014

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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


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

Answered 8 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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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