What is the difference between a summons and a subpoena? (2023)

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A Subpoena and a Summons are similar because they both give notice about a court proceeding. Differences between a Subpoena and a Summons include:

  • who they are given to
  • when they are given
  • what they are used for

What is a Summons?

A Summons is an official notice of a lawsuit. It is given to the person being sued. If you sue someone, they need to know about it. This way, they can come to court and fight the lawsuit. When you serve the defendant with a Summons, you officially tell that you are suing them. You must follow the rules for giving the Summons to the defendants to properly file your case. For helpful videos on filing court papers, see theLaw Basics Video Series.

What is a Subpoena?

A Subpoena is a court order. You can use a Subpoena to requirea person to come to court, go to a deposition, or give documents or evidence to you. You must serve the Subpoena on the person.

How do I send a Summons?

If you sue someone, you must serve them with a Summons. This gives them notice of the lawsuit. “Service of process” is the formal name for giving a defendant a Summons to come to court. Each defendant must get individual service. You cannot serve the defendant yourself. You must serve a Summons in one of three ways:

  • Service by the Sheriff
  • Service by a special process server
  • Service by Certified Mail (sometimes)

Service by the Sheriff

Service by the Sheriff is the easiest way to serve your Summons. You will have to pay the Sheriff a fee unless you have a court order that waives the fee. To see if you qualify, readFiling Court Papers for Freeor watch our videoFiling Court Papers for Free.

If you want the Sheriff to serve your Summons, take the Summons to the Sheriff. You will need one original and two copies, with the Complaint attached to each one. The Sheriff will give the Summons to the defendant by hand. They can also give it to someone who lives with the defendant who is at least 13 years old. Next, the Sheriff fills out a sworn statement on the back of the copy of the Summons. Then, they file it with the Clerk of the Court. The Court must have a record that the Sheriff served the Summons.

Service by a special process server

A special process server is someone other than the sheriff who can serve legal papers. A Motion to Appoint Special Process Server is a written request to use one. Learn more about requesting a special process server.

Service by Certified Mail

Some cases allow service by certified mail, such as a small claims cases. You do not need to have someone else serve the defendants. You may deliver the Summons and a copy of the Complaint by certified mail. It should be restricted delivery, return receipt requested. Restricted delivery means that only the person you addressed the Summons to can sign for it. A Return receipt is a green postcard that shows that the post office delivered the letter. Make sure you keep a record of when you sent the letter and to whom. Also, keep the green return receipt when you get it in the mail. It will prove to the court that you served the defendant.

How do I send out a Subpoena?

Sometimes, a witness will not testify in court willingly. You can Subpoena the witness, which requires them to come to court. You can also use a Subpoena during discovery. Discovery happens before trial. It lets both sides find information and evidence to prepare for their case. During discovery, you can Subpoena a person to come to a deposition and answer questions. You can also get evidence from a person or company who is not a party to the lawsuit.

To Subpoena a witness, you can get the form in the clerk’s office. Fill in the name of the case, the name and address of the witness, and the courtroom for the case. When you Subpoena a witness, you must pay them a witness fee and travel costs. The clerk can help you figure out the amount. Fill out the Subpoena and make out a check or money order to the witness. Then, you or any other adult may give the Subpoena and payment to the witness. You can give the Subpoena in person or by certified mail. Mail should be restricted delivery, return receipt requested. Make sure you keep a record of the delivery. You must be able to show that you gave the witness the Subpoena. You may also ask the sheriff's office to deliver the Subpoena and check to your witness.

During discovery, you can also get the Subpoena form in the clerk’s office in your courtroom. For a deposition, fill in the name of the case and the name and address of the witness. Also, fill in the place, time and date of the deposition. If you want documents, you must list what kind of documents you want in the Subpoena. Once you fill out the form, you or any other adult may give the Subpoena to the witness. You can give the Subpoena in person or by certified mail. Mail should be restricted delivery, return receipt requested. Make sure you keep a record of the delivery. You must be able to show that you gave the witness the Subpoena. You may also ask the Sheriff’s Office to deliver the Subpoena.

(Video) What’s the difference between a subpoena and a summons?

Can I ignore the Subpoena or Summons?

You should not ignore either a Subpoena or a Summons. You should talk to a lawyer if you get either one.

A Summons is an invitation to come to court. In some cases, the court will schedule a call or a video call for the first appearance instead. In other cases, the court will ask that you file an appearance or an answer.Your Summons should say so.

It is not anorder, so you do not have to do what it says. But, if you ignore a Summons, you will likely lose the case against you. The court will usually decide the lawsuit in favor of the person suing you. The court could decide that you have to pay money or that you must stop doing something. You will have to obey the court’s final decision even though you did not take part in the lawsuit.

There is one kind of Summons that youcannotignore. You cannot ignore a Citation to Discover Assets. If you lose a case and owe someone money, but do not pay it, you could get a Citation to Discover Assets. If you get a Citation to Discover Assets, you should talk to a lawyer right away. You should not ignore the Citation or fail to appear on the court date. If you do, you could face penalties.

You cannot ignore a Subpoena. A Subpoena is a court order to come to court. If you ignore the order, the court will hold you in contempt. You could go to jail or face a large fine for ignoring the Subpoena. Subpoenas are used in both criminal and civil cases. They can be given to anyone that might have helpful information about the case. This can be testimony or documents and evidence. If you get a Subpoena and do not want to testify or turn over documents, do not just ignore it. Ask a lawyer to help you figure out what to do.

What if the Summons was not properly served?

If the other party serves you improperly, go to court on the date stated in the Summons and tell the judge. The judge should not let the case against you go on if service was improper. The judge will probably not throw out the case against you. Instead, the judge will probably let the plaintiff try to serve you again. If the plaintiff properly serves you on the second try, the lawsuit may not be over. However, if youfile an Appearancebefore telling the judge about the improper service,you give up the right to say that you did not receive proper service.

If you receive a Subpoena, do not ignore it. It does not matter if the service was proper or not. If you know about the Subpoena, then you should follow the orders in it. If you think service was incorrect, you should talk to a lawyer right away about your options and rights.

E-filing in Illinois

E-filing is required in Illinois both for attorneys and people who are representing themselves in court. This may change the way serving a Summons or a Subpoena works. Check with thesheriffor localcircuit courtclerk for more information. The Illinois Supreme Court has informationregarding e-filing in Illinois.

Legal Comment

Legal Comment

Very useful and simplified…

(Video) Subpoena or Summons - Forensic Medicine

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/05/2021 - 12:46

Very useful and simplified for any Layperson.


Submitted by Karla Baldwin on Fri, 03/05/2021 - 15:31

Hello and thank you for your comment. We are glad this was helpful.


(Video) Summons | Subpoena | समन | Legal Procedures | Forensic Medicine | Dr Krup Vasavda

Submitted by Karla Baldwin on Mon, 02/22/2021 - 16:59

Hello. Please contact a lawyer at Get Legal Help for assistance. Good luck to you.

absolutely clear

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/06/2020 - 02:32

absolutely clear


Submitted by Karla Baldwin on Tue, 09/08/2020 - 12:37

Thank you. We are glad you found this helpful.

(Video) Understanding Terms: Complaint, Subpoena, Summons by Shapero & Green Attorneys at Law

Difference between a summons and subpoena

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 01/27/2020 - 17:13

Thank you that was clear. A subpoena is apparently what we in the British Commonwealth would call a witness summons. But I still don't understand the relaxed attitude to subpoena's being ignored in the US impeachment inquiry.


Submitted by Jack Etchingham on Wed, 01/29/2020 - 12:46

Thank you for your comment! And you are correct. The impeachment inquiry is unique.It involves questions about subpoenas that may not have a clear answer.

We are glad you found this page helpful!

Difference between a summons and subpoena

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/28/2019 - 14:55

Was very helpful


What is the difference between summons? ›

Summon is a legal notice, issued both in case of civil and criminal proceeding, in which a court orders an individual either to appear or to produce a document before the court, at a stipulated time and place.
Comparison Chart.
Basis for ComparisonSummonWarrant
Addressed toDefendant or witnessPolice officer
3 more rows
12 Sept 2017

What do you call a person who has been subpoenaed? ›

A witness is a person who saw a crime or was a victim of a crime. A witness can be subpoenaed (ordered to attend court) as set out in the Criminal Code of Canada or by a criminal proceeding in the NWT. Witnesses are called to court to answer questions about a case.

Can I refuse a witness summons? ›

If you've witnessed a crime, you might get a witness summons telling you to go to court. This means you'll have to be at the court on the day of the trial and give evidence if you're asked to. You should go to court if you get a summons - you can be arrested and taken to the court by the police if you don't.

What is the difference between summon and subpoena? ›

If you are called as a witness you will receive a letter called a summons or a subpoena, depending on which type of court your case is going to heard in. A summons is for a case in the Magistrates' Court, while a subpoena is sent to witnesses for cases in the County or Supreme Courts.

How do you answer a summons without a lawyer? ›

Filing Your Answer. Contact the clerk's office of the court where the lawsuit was filed. You'll find a phone number and address for the clerk's office on your summons. The clerk will be able to tell you exactly what documents you should file with your answer and whether any filing fee is required.


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