21 Jan 24

Deposition Subpoenas: How They Work and When You May Need to Comply

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Last Updated on: 21st January 2024, 10:45 pm


What Exactly is a Deposition Subpoena?

A deposition subpoena is a legal document issued by a court that orders someone to show up at a specific time and place to give a deposition (more on what a deposition is in a minute). The subpoena is issued by an attorney involved in some type of court case, whether it’s a lawsuit between a bunch of companies or individuals, or a criminal case or whatever.The attorney wants to ask you questions under oath about stuff you may have seen or know that relates to their case. Like if there was a car accident, they might wanna ask witnesses what they saw happen. Or if someone is suing their employer for discrimination, they may wanna ask coworkers if they ever saw the person get treated unfairly. You get the idea.So this attorney sends you a subpoena to legally require you to come answer their questions. If you ignore it, you could get in trouble with the court, like face fines or even jail time in extreme cases. So you gotta take these kinds of notices seriously even though they seem annoying and pointless.

Why Would I Get a Deposition Subpoena?

There’s a couple main reasons why someone may slap you with one of these deposition subpoena things:

  • You’re a Witness in a Case: If you saw or know something important about an accident, crime, or legal dispute the case is about, they’ll wanna depose (question) you to get your testimony on the record.
  • You’re Involved in The Case: If it’s a lawsuit and you’re one of the people or companies being sued, the attorney will wanna ask you questions to build their case against you. Not fun, I know.
  • You Have Important Documents: If you have any emails, documents, records, or other stuff that’s important evidence in the case, they may want you to produce those items.
  • You’re an Expert Witness: If you’re some sort of expert they want to pick your brain about industry standards or give opinions that support their case, they’ll slap you with one.

So in a nutshell – if you know something important related to a legal dispute, there’s a good chance you’ll get dragged into the mess with one of these nonsense subpoenas.

What Actually Happens at a Deposition?

If you get ordered to show up for a deposition, here’s the basic rundown of what goes down:

  • You gotta testify under oath just like you would in court – so no lying or you could get busted for perjury!
  • The attorney asks you questions about what you saw or know regarding the case.
  • You answer their questions to the best of your ability. They may show you documents, records, or evidence and ask you about them too.
  • There’s a court reporter there typing up everything you say word-for-word into a transcript.
  • The attorney may also videotape your deposition depending on the case.
  • The deposition usually happens at the attorney’s office but it could be anywhere – no judge is present, usually just you, the lawyer(s), court reporter, etc.
  • Your testimony can be used as evidence later on, like at a trial or hearing related to the case.
  • Plan for it to take at least a few hours. Like I said, these things are a big annoying waste of time usually. But you gotta show up or else!

The attorney’s goal is to get as much info from you as possible to help prove their case. For you, the main things are 1) tell the truth and 2) don’t volunteer extra information they didn’t ask you about. Answer their questions directly without going on tangents and you’ll be alright.

How Much Notice Will I Get to Comply?

Here’s the deal when it comes to the notice you get about having to show up for one of these deposition things:In most cases, the subpoena has to be “served” on you (meaning officially delivered) at least 10 business days before the scheduled deposition date. This gives you a decent heads up to clear your schedule.But there are exceptions – if the attorney gets a court order allowing shorter notice, you may only get 3-5 business days warning before you have to sit for questions.Either way, as soon as you get served with one of these subpoenas, the clock starts ticking for you to comply. So don’t stick it in a pile on your desk and forget about it like I’ve done a few times with other legal papers – oops.You or your attorney will need to immediately review it and respond on time, usually by contacting the attorney to work out dates and logistics for showing up.

Do I Have to Comply With the Subpoena?

I know some of you may be tempted to just ignore one of these nuisance subpoenas. Especially if it seems totally ridiculous that you would have any useful info about the court case.But here’s the reality – barring a few narrow exceptions, you usually have to comply if you get properly served with one. Here’s when you may be able to fight it:

  • Subpoena Wasn’t Properly Served: If there are technical problems with how you got served the subpoena, you may be able to get out of it. But this argument rarely works.
  • Information Isn’t Relevant to The Case: If the attorney is clearly just on a fishing expedition and the stuff they want to ask you about has zero legitimate relevance to the lawsuit or investigation, you may be able to challenge the subpoena.
  • Subpoena Is Overly Burdensome: If showing up would be a total logistical nightmare or cause extreme financial stress, you may be able to push back. For example if you need to travel really far or have some medical issue making it impossible for you to testify.

As you can see though, the thresholds to fight off one of these things are pretty narrow. So be smart and don’t just ignore it altogether. Talk to the attorney serving you and see if you can work out an accommodation or compromise.If that fails and you’re hellbent on challenging it, your best bet is to have an attorney file a “motion to quash” asking the judge to cancel the subpoena. Just know there still may be consequences like fines or jail if you flat out refuse to comply without the judge’s ok.

What Happens If I Don’t Show Up?

Let’s be real – these deposition subpoenas are a pain in the butt and of course there will be times when something urgent comes up or you simply forget about it altogether. Hey, life happens.But before you skip out on it, you reaaally wanna think twice and try your best to comply. If you just blow it off, here are some of the bad things that may happen:

  • The attorney can file a request with the court asking them to hold you in contempt – which can lead to stiff fines or even jail time in extreme cases! Not fun.
  • If you’re an actual party in the lawsuit (like a defendant), refusing to be deposed can cause the court to penalize you or even rule against you in the case as if you lost. Doh!
  • You may get served with another subpoena, this time with a court order from the judge. Then you’ll have zero wiggle room to avoid it.
  • At a minimum, expect angry lawyers and legal staff blowing up your phone and jamming up your inbox if you no-show. Super annoying.

So in most cases, make every effort to show up or reschedule the deposition ASAP if an emergency comes up. Communicate with the attorney so you don’t end up on the wrong side of the court. Nobody wants drama with a judge!

Should I Hire a Lawyer to Help Me With The Subpoena?

If you’ve been slapped with one of these short-notice deposition subpoenas related to a lawsuit you’re involved in, it may make sense to have your own civil attorney help guide you through the process.They can advise you on stuff like:

  • Reviewing the subpoena to make sure it’s legit
  • Negotiating with the other attorney on the timing or scope of questioning
  • Going with you to the deposition to object to inappropriate questions
  • Helping prep you on how to truthfully answer the questions

If it’s a criminal case you’re being asked to testify in as a witness, you may also benefit from at least a quick consultation with a defense lawyer. They can give you guidance on avoiding self-incrimination and other key rights you have.That being said, if it’s a pretty straightforward situation where you don’t have a dog in the fight and just witnessed something minor related to the case, you probably don’t need to shell out money hiring a lawyer.Just go in with a cooperative attitude, stick to the facts truthfully, and it’ll be over before you know it! Easier said than done though, I feel ya.

Let’s Recap This Nuisance Called Deposition Subpoenas:

Whew, I know that was a boatload of legal mumbo jumbo about these pesky deposition subpoenas! Let me try to simplify it for you with a quick cheat sheet:

  • What They Are: A legal notice ordering you to appear for pretrial questioning under oath about a case you may have relevant information on.
  • Why You Get One: You may be a witness, involved in the dispute, have important documents, or are an expert needed to testify.
  • What Happens: You have to show up to answer an attorney’s questions in front of a court reporter and possibly on video.
  • How Much Notice: Usually you get 10+ business days notice. But could be as short as 3 days if court approved.
  • Complying: You usually must comply barring narrow exceptions. Fight it carefully with a lawyer’s help.
  • Consequences of Blowing It Off: Fines, jail time in extreme cases, legal headaches. No fun.
  • Getting Legal Help: Have a civil attorney guide you if you’re involved personally, or talk to a defense lawyer for insights on your rights in a criminal proceeding.

Hopefully this breakdown has helped you wrap your head around the deposition process a bit more if you ever have the distinct pleasure of being served with one of these nonsense subpoenas! Let me know if you have any other questions.And for real – if you get slapped with one of these, don’t just shove it in a drawer and try to ignore it like I’ve done a few times. Get some legal guidance ASAP on how to comply or fight it. I’ve dealt with enough angry attorneys blowing up my phone from dodging these things myself! Not fun times.Alright, go out there and stay away from sketchy legal situations that’ll land you in a deposition hot seat! (Easier said than done in this crazy world, I know.) Good luck homies!


This Reddit Thread has some good real-world advice on dealing with these subpoenas.Here’s a solid video overview from a lawyer on what to expect in a deposition.This Avvo article digs more into why you’d get subpoenaed and how to respond.