A subpoena is a document that requires its recipient to appear in court as a witness. If you receive a subpoena, it doesn't mean you've done anything wrong; it just means you may have information that's needed by the court.

Subpoena can also be a verb: You can subpoena someone by giving them a subpoena. If you receive a subpoena but fail to carry out its instructions, you're in big trouble. This fact is suggested by the Latin roots of this word: the prefix sub- means "under" and poena means "penalty." One nice thing about a subpoena is that it's not a summons; if you get one of those, it means you're being sued.

Definitions of subpoena

n a writ issued by court authority to compel the attendance of a witness at a judicial proceeding; disobedience may be punishable as a contempt of court

subpoena ad testificandum
Type of:
judicial writ, writ
(law) a legal document issued by a court or judicial officer

v serve or summon with a subpoena

“The witness and her records were subpoenaed
Type of:
process, serve, swear out
deliver a warrant or summons to someone

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