Subpoena Duces Tecum: Definition & Example

Instructor: Erin Krcatovich

Erin teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration and has a PhD in Political Science.

In this lesson, we will learn about a special type of subpoena, or court order, called a subpoena duces tecum. We will define the concept and provide some examples of these subpoenas.

Subpoena Duces Tecum

Evidence is an important part of the process of going to trial. It helps demonstrate to the judge and jury exactly what occurred, either as part of a crime or part of a lawsuit. As you might imagine, though, it can be tough to get other people to comply with the complicated process of gathering evidence. This is where a subpoena is a very useful tool for an attorney.

A subpoena is a special request from a court for a person to comply with an order. Generally, when we think of a subpoena, it refers to a request for a person to appear in court, either to testify or to respond to a lawsuit. A subpoena duces tecum, meaning 'you shall bring with you,' is a special type of subpoena. This is a court order for a person to bring a document to court or to an attorney's office. A person is not required to testify, only to produce the document. Documents could include, but are not limited to: electronic files on a computer; medical records; insurance records; personal documents, like journals, calendars, or notes; and business records.

There are several parts to a subpoena duces tecum. First, it will identify what is being requested. It can be specific (a document) or broad (a type of document, or all documents from a business). Second, it must name the relevant case and contact information from the party asking for it. Third, many will give a specific date, time, and place to bring the document; often, it will be combined with a subpoena ad testificandum (a request for a specific person to testify), bringing with them the document and certifying that it is accurate.

If a person refuses to comply with a subpoena duces tecum, the requesting party may ask a judge for a motion to compel. This is a formal court order that tells the person to comply or face possible punishment from the court. It can be a very serious offense for a person to refuse to follow a judge's orders, and can result in possible jail time.

Examples

Some documents are important for use during a lawsuit. Let's imagine that your home catches on fire because of faulty wiring in a toaster. There is some damage to your home and you need to see a doctor for treatment from injuries resulting from the fire. You also briefly see a therapist for counseling after the traumatic events. You file a claim with your homeowner's insurance company that pays for some, but not all, of your bills. You sue the manufacturer of the toaster for the remaining damages because it was their faulty product that caused the fire.

First, you ask the appliance manufacturer to pay for repair bills. Second, you ask for damages for additional pain and suffering caused by the incident, to pay your medical and therapy bills. The toaster manufacturer submits a subpoena duces tecum to your homeowner's insurance company to request records of the fire claim, identifying what the insurance paid for and what was not covered. This will help the manufacturer know whether your claims of additional damages were accurate or not, and help them figure out the next steps to take in the lawsuit.

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