Imagine you are the plaintiff in a personal injury case. You were injured due to someone else’s negligence, and you seek compensation for your damages. Your attorney asks you if any witnesses can testify to what happened.
You remember that several people saw the incident, but you are not sure if they’ll be willing to testify. After all, some of them are friends of the defendant, and others work for the company being sued.
However, your attorney tells you that witnesses can be compelled to testify using subpoenas. This means that even if they don’t want to testify, they can be legally required to do so.
Subpoenaed witnesses may not be happy about it, but their testimony could be vital to your case. Read on to learn more about how subpoenas work and when they can be used in personal injury cases.
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What Is a Subpoena?
A subpoena (pronounced “suh·pee·nuh”) is a document that orders someone to appear in court or to provide documents or other materials to the court. The word “subpoena” comes from a Latin term meaning “under penalty,” indicating that failure to comply with a subpoena may result in consequences such as a fine or jail time.
A subpoena can be issued by a prosecutor, a grand jury, or a court. In criminal cases, a prosecutor may issue a subpoena to compel the production of evidence or the testimony of a witness.
A grand jury may issue a subpoena to compel the production of evidence or witness testimony. A court may issue a subpoena on its own initiative or at the request of one of the parties to a case.
A subpoena must be served on the person to whom it is addressed. Service of process is the legal procedure by which notice of a lawsuit or action is delivered to someone who is required to respond to the lawsuit or action. The person serving the subpoena must be 18 or older and not a party to the lawsuit or action.
If you receive a subpoena, you should consult with a Connecticut personal injury lawyer to determine how best to respond.
Depending on the circumstances, you may quash (set aside) the subpoena, challenge it, or comply with it. If you ignore it, you may be held in contempt of court, resulting in consequences such as fines or jail time.
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Can an Accident Witness be Forced to Comply with a Subpoena?
When it comes to testifying in court, witnesses usually have two choices: they can either agree to testify of their own accord or be served with a subpoena.
As discussed, a subpoena is a court order that requires a witness to appear in court and give testimony.
If a witness refuses to comply with a subpoena, they may be held in contempt of court, which could lead to legal trouble.
In other words, witnesses can be forced to testify against their will in some cases. This can be frustrating for witnesses who would prefer not to get involved in a legal case, but remember, courts need all the evidence they can get to make fair decisions. So if you’re ever asked to testify in court, know that you may not have a choice in the matter.
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How Do Attorneys Handle Reluctant Witnesses?
Reluctant witnesses can be frustrating for attorneys, but there are ways to deal with them.
First, your attorney must establish the strength of the witness’s testimony. They may ask questions about what the witness saw, heard, or experienced on the day of the accident.
Once they know how vital the witness is to your case, they may attempt to reason with the individual. Often, people are reluctant to testify because they don’t want to get involved in a legal case.
They may be worried about retaliation from the at-fault party or having to take time off work for court appearances. Your Connecticut personal injury attorney may convince them to testify by explaining the legal repercussions the at-fault party could face for retaliating against a witness.
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In some cases, witnesses may be given immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony.
If all else fails, your attorney may subpoena the reluctant witness, requiring them to testify in court. While it’s not ideal, sometimes subpoena power is necessary to get the information you need to win your case.
There are many reasons why a witness may be reluctant to testify in court.:
- Privacy concerns
- Fear of retaliation
- Anxiety about testifying
- Time commitment
It is the attorney’s job to build a strong case, and sometimes that means subpoenaing reluctant witnesses.
Don’t hesitate to ask your Connecticut personal injury lawyer if you have any questions about how your case is progressing. They should be able to fill you in on the status of your case and what to expect moving forward.
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Are There Exceptions to Complying with a Subpoena?
In some circumstances, witnesses may be excused from testifying, even if they’ve been served with a subpoena. The exceptions are rare, but they do exist. Here are some ways a witness may be excused from testifying:
If the Witness is a Minor
It can be confusing and even a little scary if you’re a minor and you’ve been served with a subpoena. After all, subpoenas are usually associated with criminal proceedings, and you may not have any experience with the legal system.
The good news is that some protections are in place for minors witnesses. For one thing, the law is generally more lenient regarding subpoenaing minors. In most cases, the subpoena will be served to your parent or guardian rather than to you directly.
Additionally, the court may give your parent or guardian some flexibility in deciding whether or not you should testify.
For example, the court may allow your parent or guardian to choose the time and place of your testimony or to have someone else present during your testimony.
A Connecticut personal injury lawyer can advise you of your rights as a minor witness and help you navigate the legal process.
If the Witness is Too Sick or Frail to Testify, They May be Excused
This exception is typically only used in cases where the witness’s testimony is deemed to be essential to the case and their health would be at risk if they were to testify.
For the witness to be excused, a doctor must submit a letter explaining the medical reasons why the witness cannot testify.
The letter must be submitted to the court before the date of the scheduled testimony. If the court determines that the witness cannot testify without jeopardizing their health, they will excuse the witness from having to comply with the subpoena.
If the Witness Suffers from Mental Illness
The court will consider the severity of the witness’s mental illness and whether the witness can understand the subpoena and its implications.
If the court finds that the witness cannot comply with the subpoena, it may quash it or provide other relief.
In some cases, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem for the witness. The guardian ad litem will ensure that the witness’s rights are protected and that their testimony is given in a way that is fair to both sides of the case.
If the Witness is a Member of the Clergy
The clergy exception is very narrow and only applies in certain circumstances. Under the clergy exception, a clergy member may not be forced to testify about a conversation protected by the clergy-penitent privilege.
The clergy-penitent privilege is a confidentiality agreement between a clergy member and their parishioner. The purpose of the privilege is to encourage people to seek spiritual guidance without fear of having their conversations revealed.
For the clergy exception to apply, the conversation must have been between the witness and a parishioner and given in confidence.
Additionally, the conversation can only be protected if it is part of the spiritual counseling that the clergy member regularly provides. If the discussion does not meet these requirements, the clergy member may be required to testify.
These are just a few ways a witness may be excused from testifying. If you have been served with a subpoena, speak with a Connecticut personal injury attorney to understand your rights and options. An attorney can help you determine if you should testify and can represent you in court.
Is It Always Necessary to Issue a Subpoena?
Sometimes, a subpoena may not be necessary to secure a witness’s testimony. In some instances, the witness may agree to testify voluntarily.
Some witnesses may be subject to a deposition instead of testifying in court. A deposition is a sworn statement that is given out of court. The statement is given under oath and can be used in lieu of testimony in court.
Subpoenas are not necessary if you can negotiate a fair settlement or if the witness agrees to testify voluntarily.
If a subpoena is necessary to secure the testimony of a key witness, an attorney can help you navigate the process. An attorney can also help you understand your rights and options if you have been served with a subpoena.
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Call a Connecticut Personal Injury Lawyer Today!
Witnesses can be reluctant to get involved when testifying in personal injury cases. Whether they fear repercussions from the at-fault party or don’t have the time, there are many reasons why someone might not want to testify. Remember, witnesses can be subpoenaed to appear in court if their testimony is necessary for the case.
The personal injury lawyers at Jonathan Perkins have extensive experience handling all individual injury cases, including those requiring witness testimony. Our attorneys understand the ins and outs of the subpoena process and can help you secure the testimony you need to build a strong case.