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Travel Restrictions When Fighting a Federal Subpoena


Travel Restrictions When Fighting a Federal Subpoena

Getting served with a federal subpoena can be intimidating. You may not understand what it means or what your options are. This article will explain travel restrictions and other issues to consider when fighting a federal subpoena. We’ll discuss the subpoena process, your rights, and defenses in plain English anyone can understand.

What is a Subpoena?

A subpoena is a legal order for you to provide documents, information, or testimony. There are criminal and civil subpoenas. Criminal subpoenas come from federal prosecutors or grand juries investigating crimes. Civil subpoenas come from people suing others over money or rights violations. Subpoenas don’t mean you’re accused of a crime. They just legally require you to give evidence relevant to an investigation or lawsuit. Still, it’s serious business. Ignoring a subpoena can lead to contempt of court charges.

Where You Have to Comply with a Subpoena

The government can force you to comply with a subpoena anywhere in the U.S. Federal criminal subpoenas apply nationwide. For civil cases, Rule 45 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure says you can be compelled to attend a trial or hearing anywhere in the state it’s issued in. There are mileage limits on other civil subpoena demands though. For example, you can’t be forced to sit for a deposition or produce documents more than 100 miles from your home or workplace. But the court can make exceptions.

Travel Expenses

If a subpoena demands you travel over 100 miles from home, the court must order the party that issued it to pay your reasonable travel expenses. This includes transportation, hotel, meals, and a daily witness fee. You can ask the court to modify a subpoena that imposes undue burden or expense. It’s not a guarantee, but judges won’t make you endure extreme hardship to comply.

Challenging the Subpoena

You have the right to legally challenge subpoenas requesting unreasonable things or issued improperly. For example, you can file a motion to quash or modify the subpoena if it:

  • Requires traveling over 100 miles without paying your expenses
  • Demands privileged information like doctor-patient communications
  • Seeks irrelevant material unlikely to prove facts at issue
  • Gives you too little time to comply

The court will then decide if the subpoena stands, needs modification, or should be quashed altogether.

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What Happens If You Don’t Comply?

Ignoring a subpoena can lead to civil or criminal contempt of court charges. Penalties include hefty fines and even jail time. For example, federal criminal contempt under 18 U.S.C. 401 can result in up to 6 months imprisonment. So don’t just blow off a subpoena. Get legal help understanding your options. In many cases, attorneys can negotiate changes or prevent undue burdens.

Subpoena Defenses

Several defenses may apply if you’re facing contempt charges for not complying with a subpoena:

  • Lack of notice – You can’t be penalized for missing a hearing or deposition you didn’t know about.
  • Inability to comply – You made good faith efforts to comply but couldn’t access subpoenaed records.
  • Undue burden – The subpoena makes unreasonable demands given your situation.
  • Privilege – The subpoena requires revealing privileged information.
  • Invalid purpose – The subpoena seeks information for an improper purpose.
  • Unreasonable travel – You shouldn’t have to travel an extreme distance on your own dime.

An experienced lawyer can advise whether these or other defenses apply in your case.

Subpoenas for Medical, School, or State Records

Special confidentiality protections apply to subpoenas requesting:

  • Medical records
  • Student records
  • State tax returns
  • Other sensitive documents

For example, a Massachusetts civil subpoena for medical records must give at least 30 days to comply. Schools usually require a court order to release student records.
Government agencies have procedures in place to handle subpoenas seeking protected information. Get legal advice to ensure your rights are protected.

Subpoenas for Employee Records

It gets tricky when your employer gets a subpoena requesting records about you or your work. Some issues that come up:

  • You may need to review the records before they’re handed over.
  • Your employer can charge reasonable fees for compiling records.
  • You may be able to limit what gets disclosed.
  • Your employer can’t penalize you for missing work to comply with a subpoena.

Consult an attorney to understand your rights if your job gets subpoenaed about you.

Getting Help with Federal Subpoenas

Don’t wait until the last minute if you get a federal subpoena. Get legal help right away to protect your rights. An attorney can:

  • Explain what the subpoena requires.
  • Negotiate reasonable compliance terms.
  • File motions to quash defective subpoenas.
  • Assert privileges and confidentiality protections.
  • Advise you about defenses if you can’t fully comply.
  • Represent you at contempt hearings.

With an experienced lawyer’s help, you can properly respond to a federal subpoena without getting steamrolled or penalized. Don’t go it alone against the power of the federal government.

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