21 Jan 24

How to Move to Quash or Modify an Unduly Burdensome Federal Subpoena

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Last Updated on: 21st January 2024, 10:46 pm


Overview of Federal Subpoenas

A federal subpoena is a written order requiring you to provide documents, testimony, or both in a federal legal proceeding. Subpoenas are used in both criminal and civil cases.There are a few key things to understand about federal subpoenas:

  • They are issued under the authority of the federal court
  • You are legally required to comply or face penalties like contempt of court
  • There are limited grounds to challenge them

So if you get hit with a subpoena that seems ridiculous or outrageously broad, don’t panic. You may be able to fight back by filing a motion to quash or modify with the court.

Deciding Whether to Challenge the Subpoena

The first step is evaluating whether there are solid legal grounds to challenge the subpoena.A few common reasons to challenge federal subpoenas include:

  • Unduly burdensome request – It would take unreasonable amounts of time/resources to comply
  • Privileged information – It asks for documents protected by attorney-client privilege
  • Improper service – You were not properly served under the federal rules
  • Lack of relevancy – The requests have little to do with the case
  • Privacy violations – It unnecessarily violates constitutional privacy rights

If one of those issues applies, you may have a decent shot at getting the subpoena quashed or modified.You also need to look at the type of subpoena:

  • Trial subpoenas – Easier to challenge since info not yet deemed “relevant”
  • Grand jury subpoenas – Harder to challenge since grand jury has broad investigative powers

In general, it’s smart to consult a federal subpoena defense lawyer before deciding your next steps. But if the subpoena seems clearly invalid or absurdly broad, filing a motion may be wise.

How to File Motion to Quash or Modify

There are two main motions you can file to fight a federal subpoena:

  1. Motion to Quash – Asks court to invalidate entire subpoena
  2. Motion to Modify – Asks court to limit scope of subpoena

Either motion must be filed promptly, before the subpoena compliance deadline.Here are the key steps in the motion filing process:

Research Case Law

  • Find prior similar cases in the same federal district
  • Focus on fact patterns and judge’s reasoning
  • Use to bolster legal arguments in your motion

Draft the Motion

  • Include procedural history and factual background
  • Explain precisely why subpoena is defective
  • Cite specific federal rules of procedure

Legal Arguments

  • Organize motion sections around distinct defects
  • Apply case law to show defects are basis to quash or modify
  • Emphasize undue burden standard if applicable

Proposed Modifications

  • For a motion to modify, give proposed limitations
  • Be reasonable but advocate for meaningful changes
  • Offer to negotiate subpoena scope with other party

File with Court

  • Follow all rules for formatting, bindings, copies
  • Include certificates of service and conference
  • File before subpoena response deadline

Timing Issues With Motion Filing

One tricky aspect is the very short time frame for filing motions against federal subpoenas.Here are some key timing considerations:

  • ASAP filing – Motions must be filed very quickly, often within 10-14 days
  • Stay request – Request a stay of subpoena pending motion resolution
  • Looming deadlines – If motion denied, be ready to fast-track compliance
  • Trial subpoenas – More time since served right before trial

Because federal subpoena motions have tight deadlines, getting an experienced lawyer on the case immediately is extremely helpful. They can efficiently handle the fast-paced drafting and filing requirements.

Opposing the Motion

After you file the motion, the other party has a chance to oppose it and explain why they believe the subpoena should stand.Here are some ways they may fight against quashing or modifying the subpoena:

  • Argue the requests are reasonably targeted and not unduly burdensome
  • Claim you did not properly meet and confer before filing motion
  • Assert the subpoena seeks critical evidence for the case
  • Dispute claims of privilege over requested documents
  • Question the timeliness of your motion

Having an attorney prepare a strong reply helps rebut these arguments and bolster your position.

Getting a Hearing Before the Judge

The judge may decide the motion just on the paper filings. But sometimes a hearing is scheduled.If you get a hearing, things to expect include:

  • Chance for oral arguments from both sides
  • Questioning from judge about subpoena defects
  • Discussion of proposed modifications
  • Judge decision at hearing or in later order

Hearings allow attorneys to emphasize key points and directly engage the judge. Skilled federal subpoena lawyers can be persuasive in this setting.

Getting the Right Outcome

Ultimately, the judge will decide whether to quash, modify, or uphold the federal subpoena.The best outcome depends on your goals:

  • Quashing – Best if subpoena is largely invalid
  • Modifying – Good to limit unduly broad requests
  • Partial win – Judge may quash some but not all requests

With an experienced subpoena attorney arguing the defects, you have a much better chance of success. But ultimately the decision rests with the judge.I know dealing with federal subpoenas feels scary and overwhelming. But just remember – you have options. Connecting with a lawyer who regularly handles these cases is a great place to start. They can evaluate your situation and fight back against subpoenas that are unduly burdensome or improper. It’s not an easy process, but taking action can get you some relief. Wishing you the very best with getting this resolved. You got this!


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