Receiving a federal Grand Jury subpoena can be nerve wracking. Yet it’s important to understand exactly what you should do if you receive this type of document.

According to federal law, the Grand Jury, as a representative of the public, “has a claim to every man’s evidence,” except for “persons protected by a constitutional, common law, or statutory privilege (Branzburg vs. Hayes).” The idea is that Grand Juries should get to hear as much evidence as possible before indicting anyone.    

Subpoenas are the way that Grand Juries get this evidence.

What is a subpoena? 

A subpoena is a document backed by the power of the courts. A subpoena will generally require one of two things from you. Either the officers of the court are asking you to produce documents that they think may serve as probative evidence in their inquiry, or they’re asking you to come in person and answer questions, testifying about whatever matter they’re delving into.

You must answer a subpoena when you get it. You cannot simply ignore it. If you do, you can be held in contempt of court. If this is a federal subpoena the court may send US Marshalls to collect you. You may also be imprisoned if you fail to respond.

What will the subpoena say? 

A subpoena will generally have a cover letter with the US Attorney’s contact information. You’ll also have the subpoena itself. It will contain the following information:

  • The name and address of the court issuing the subpoena. If you are required to appear in person, this is the court you’ll be asked to go to.
  • The “return date.” This is either the date you must go to court, or the date by which you must submit your evidence.
  • If documents are required, then it will list all the documents the court is looking for. 

You can certainly just show up in court or send in the documents, and in many cases that will be the appropriate response. People who receive subpoenas are not always being accused of breaking the law.

Indeed, some professionals receive subpoenas quite routinely. For example, records officers at banks may receive them quite often as federal law enforcement requests to pull bank records while investigating various financial crimes. 

What should you do when you receive a subpoena? 

Unless getting subpoenas is a routine part of your job, you should take a deep breath and call a federal criminal attorney.

It’s going to be very difficult for you to tell whether you’ve just become the target of a federal investigation when you first receive your subpoena. An attorney can help you figure out whether you’re in any particular danger.

Resist the impulse to contact the US Attorney or to ask the agent who served you any questions about your subpoena. You may end up saying something incriminating. You’d be surprised how even the most innocuous statements could be used against you! Your attorney can contact the government to figure out what the subpoena is all about and whether you’re at risk. 

An attorney can also help you review the document list to ensure that you actually comply with the request should you decide that’s in your best interests. Some of the requests may be confusing, and if you decide you’re going to let the subpoena stand unchallenged you’re going to want to send a thorough and complete representation of everything the courts are asking for.

If there is a concern that you’re being implicated in criminal conduct, it will often be in your best interests for your attorney to attempt to issue a 5th Amendment challenge to the subpoena. This can prevent you from having to testify. In some cases, the challenge could even keep problematic documents out of the jury’s hands. 

Every case is different, so it’s vital that you avoid making any assumptions. If you’ve recently received a subpoena, leave nothing to chance. Contact Koch Law for advice. 

See also: 

Should You Testify on Your Own Behalf in a Criminal Case?

How Does the Grand Jury Process Work in a Criminal Case?

How Discovery Works in Federal Criminal Cases