Understanding A Summons Versus A Subpoena

By: Akanksha A Panicker

It’s always a shock to receive a summons or a subpoena. Providing evidence is an imperative part of any case, however, and you are legally required to respond by the deadline. It’s hard to ensure that each party has had an adequate chance to represent themselves and provide proofs that corroborate their stance. Consequently, both these legal instruments are used as a way to ensure that an individual is brought before the court. The following article will elucidate areas of confusion between a summons or a subpoena and will demarcate the differences between the two. 

 [1.1] What Is A Summons?

A summons essentially provides legal notice to a party about a lawsuit, being the very first form of official communication that lets an individual know that they are being sued. While a summons may sometimes specify a court date, it is not always necessary. 

A summons cannot be ignored, as it is legally binding and essential to ensure due process is followed. However, one will not be held in contempt for ignoring a summons, unlike a subpoena. The direct consequence of ignoring a summons is the issuance of a default judgement in favor of the plaintiff. In the event that the plaintiff themselves do not show, the case is to be dismissed. A summons thus essentially acts as an invitation to participate in the lawsuit. If one does not participate, they have no chance of winning and as a result, lose by default. 

Service of process is how a summons is delivered to the individual, the form and content of which is widely depicted in Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 

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