In criminal cases, a subpoena is a legal document issued by a court or law enforcement agency that compels an individual to provide testimony or produce documents or other evidence related to a criminal investigation. Subpoenas come in various forms, but they all share the same fundamental purpose: to gather information or secure witness testimony.
They’re often used in white collar criminal investigations, and the recipient of a subpoena can be either just a witness or a subject of an investigation. Sometimes, however, the results of a subpoena can move someone from “witness” status to “additional target” for the government’s action. That’s what makes it very important to know how to react:
Don’t panic, but don’t ignore the situation
You need to stay calm. Until you learn more, you don’t know exactly why the authorities are interested in what you have or know. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in trouble.
If the subpoena is related to business records that your company may control, you need to take immediate action. Notify your staff and put your document preservation plan into place.
Do not immediately rush to comply until you know your rights
There are several questions that need to be asked in this situation. They include:
- Is the subpoena valid? While rare, it may be possible to challenge the basis for the subpoena. Depending on your position and the nature of the information requested, some of what you may have may be privileged information.
- When do you need to comply? If you are being asked for documents instead of testimony (or documents and testimony), you may want to see if the subpoena can be limited or if you can get more time to gather what’s being requested.
- Are you allowed to inform anybody else about the subpoena? Some subpoenas come with court orders saying that you cannot disclose the fact that you’ve been subpoenaed to anybody else in order to protect the integrity of the investigation.
Finally, you need to find out if you’re in any real danger of being charged with a crime. Experienced legal guidance can help you determine whether you’re a target or a suspect in the investigation, what rights you have to resist the subpoena and how to mitigate the issues you face.