Skip to main content
College Student Defense

Summons vs. Subpoena: What’s the Difference?

By April 27, 2020April 6th, 2022No Comments

Receiving a summons or a subpoena for the first time can be very confusing. 

What does it mean? What are you supposed to do next? How is one different from the other?

Luckily, our legal team at DC Student Defense is here not only to answer all your questions, but to provide legal assistance if you find yourself receiving either one of these types of court documents. 

What is a summons?

A summons occurs at the beginning of a legal case.

It is an order from the court requiring a person to appear at a hearing. 

Sometimes, this requirement is as simple as jury duty. Other times, however, it can be for a civil lawsuit. For example, if someone sues you, the court will send you a summons requiring you to attend a hearing with a specified place and time. (The same would be true in a criminal case when the state wants you to come to court to start a legal proceeding.)

A summons will typically include the following information: 

  • The name and type of court who has issued the summons
  • The name(s) of the party receiving the summons
  • The case number assigned by the court
  • What the case is about
  • How you should respond to the summons (what is being asked of you)
  • When you should respond 

In any situation more serious than a summons for jury duty, it’s important to contact an experienced attorney to help you through this process.

What is a subpoena?

A subpoena is similar to a summons in that it is a requirement from the court, but a subpoena does not necessarily mean that there is a case against you. In fact, a subpoena usually comes once a court case has already begun.

Typically a subpoena requires you to produce some type of evidence. The most common instance of a subpoena is to require a witness to come testify under oath for a case. 

In some cases, however, the plaintiff or the defendant in a case may be subpoenaed to give certain evidence in a case they are already taking part in.

A subpoena typically includes much of the same type of information as a summons:

  • The name and type of court who has issued the subpoena
  • What the subpoena is about (lawsuit, investigation, etc.)
  • The place, date, and time for your appearance
  • The penalty for not showing up/ not complying with the subpoena

What happens if I don’t comply?

Anyone who received a summons or subpoena is legally required to comply with the orders. 

The first thing you should do when receiving a summons or subpoena is to check the date of the requirements. 

If you don’t show up for a summons, you’ll automatically lose the civil case brought against you. If you don’t show up with what was requested of you with your subpoena, you may be facing fines or even jail time for contempt of court.

If, for whatever reason, you cannot meet the requirements, you should contact an attorney immediately to help you figure out your next steps.

Hire DC Student Defense to help you with your summons/subpoena

If you or your child has received a summons or subpoena, you don’t have to go through this process alone. At DC Student Defense, we are dedicated to helping our clients and their families navigate through legal issues and violations with a minimum of disruption to the student’s education. Contact us today to get started. 

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

More posts by Shan Wu
Skip to content