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Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert

Legal Requirements for Subpoenas

National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

A subpoena is a court order for the named person to appear as a witness in that court on a specific matter and at a specific time.

The purpose of a subpoena to appear is to secure the appearance of a witness to testify on a specific date in advance. The appearance may be for a deposition, pretrial hearing, trial, or a posttrial or grand jury proceeding.

The court or authorized parties may issue subpoenas. A properly served subpoena is accomplished in person through personal service to the witness or an authorized person. Being "served" is simply part of the testifying process to secure the appearance of an important and necessary witness for legal proceedings.

The definition of what is considered "personal service" is determined by jurisdictional rules of procedure. Some jurisdictions allow someone other than the named witness to accept service of the subpoena.

A properly served subpoena compels the recipient witness to appear at a specific time and place and therefore is a compulsory process. Subpoenas served in person are legally binding. Subpoenas sent by mail or accepted by someone other than the named witness may not be binding in some jurisdictions.

Sometimes, it is beneficial to the expert to be under subpoena rather than to voluntarily appear for trial. The expert's independence and credibility are enhanced if the expert has been subpoenaed.

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