Aside from lawyers not many people want to go to court. The thought of being called as a witness can be intimidating. The majority of people simply don’t want to get involved in criminal legal matters. Very few people want to testify against someone. No one wants to take time out of his or her day to wait around a courthouse, possibly for hours, only to be inserted into other people’s problems. As such, it is not surprising that I get asked the question: “if I get a summons or a subpoena do I have to go to court?”. This post examines answers to that question in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Rule of Criminal Procedure 17: The Witness Summons Process
Rule 17 states that a summons must identify the court, the name of the case and the time and place the witness should appear in court. Usually, the lawyer issuing a witness subpoena will put his name on the summons and afford the witness the opportunity to contact him. This is how I typically prepare subpoenas for witnesses. I put my office number and cell phone number on the paper. I advise the witness to contact me in advance of the date specified. I do this primarily for the convenience of the witness. If he or she contacts me I can arrange for them to be on call so that their day is not a total loss. I also want to work with them and find out if they have important matters planned that I can ask the judge to work around.
When one of my clients receives a summons I will reach out to the party who issued the paper. Sometimes my client has a privilege that protects him from having to testify that I can address in advance. For instance, someone whose testimony could result in him getting charged with a crime has a Fifth Amendment privilege not to testify. Someone summonsed for a domestic assault and battery case may have a marital privilege. Other times I can advise the summonsing party that my client’s testimony might actually be harmful to his position. These discussions often eliminate the need for my client to appear in court.
Do I Have To Be Served In Hand With The Witness Subpoena?
The short answer to this question is no. Massachusetts law permits service by leaving the summons at the witness’ home with someone “of suitable age” or by mailing the document to that address. So, if you receive the papers in the mail or are given them by someone at your home consider yourself served. Also, as a practical matter, if you have knowledge that a subpoena did issue for your attendance in court you should appear. Trying to be cute or evasive will be counterproductive.
What If I Don’t Appear In Court After Being Subpoenaed?
If the party who served you with the subpoena is able to show the judge that you were served and you fail to appear in court that judge may issue a capias or a warrant. That could result in you being arrested and forcibly brought into court.
Anyone who receives a witness subpoena is a criminal case in Massachusetts should call a criminal defense lawyer and get some advice. We have been in the criminal law business for almost three decades. We know that our lawyers can help you. Call us at 617-263-6800 or send us an email. Know your rights.