How Is a Subpoena Legally Served To Someone?

This question demands an answer for several legal reasons. First and foremost, you need confidence that you received a legitimate document. Alternatively, it is in your best interests to verify that it reached you in a way sanctioned by local law. 

Above and beyond these motivations, understanding the details of a subpoena can help you set expectations for what needs to happen next. It is important to have some base knowledge about different types of court orders. After reading this guide today, you will also have the opportunity to meet with highly-qualified legal counsel.

What Is a Subpoena?

First, we must define what it means to be subpoenaed. At its core, a subpoena is an order from a court which requires you to either testify or provide information. While it does not represent imminent legal trouble for you, a lack of cooperation may invite criminal charges. Also keep in mind, a subpoena is different from a summons.

Who Can Serve a Subpoena?

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure offer an unclouded definition of who can deliver subpoenas. This resource can also help explain how a subpoena is legally served to someone. An individual who serves this function must be an adult at least 18 or older. They also have a claim to a fee and mileage credits for their vehicle and time use.

What Happens if a Subpoena Is not Served?

It is highly doubtful that the court will not manage to serve a subpoena. Even if they absolutely never get a hold of you, at best, you will only delay the legal process for a little while.

Moreover, when the court cannot reach someone in person, a judge can order a substituted service. You can find examples of these methods below.

How Is a Subpoena Legally Served?

There are four generally accepted ways to serve a subpoena. However, you should note that some jurisdictions may have slight variations in the rules.

Hand Delivery

The traditional answer to “how is a subpoena legally served to someone”, is via a hand-delivered a physical copy of the court order. Indeed, you may have seen someone say, “You’ve been served” in a TV show or movie.

The person who delivers the subpoena does not necessarily have to pass the papers to the recipient. There is a precedent for giving verbal notification they have served the individual and dropping it on the ground. Furthermore, the court’s agent may leave it with a member of a household or office.

Certified Mail

There are a couple of circumstances where delivering a subpoena via certified mail is advantageous.

For starters, the individual or organization receiving it could be from a different state. This circumstance can make a person delivering it personally less convenient or costly. Furthermore, a delivery service provides unerring evidence the subpoena made its way to the recipient.

Read Aloud

Reading a subpoena out loud may not seem conventional, but it is an accepted method. Generally, saying the contents to the recipient happens when they are uncooperative. Even if they refuse to take it physically, they cannot say they did not receive official notice.


Serving a subpoena to the last-known email address of the recipient can be worth the try. There is a way to set one up where the person who sends it receives notice of its receipt. Someone only has to open the latest contents of their inbox for the court to consider a subpoena legally served.

What Happens Next?

A legal subpoena will describe what the judge expects of you. Furthermore, it will give you a date to appear or submit the requested documents. The three potential responses to this order include the following.

Ignore the Subpoena

You ignore the receipt of a subpoena at your legal peril. You must follow through, or a judge can find you in civil or criminal contempt

A civil contempt charge means an individual refused and impeded the judicial process. The resulting punishment is handed down by a judge for refusing to give testimony or documentation.

Respond Yourself

You may decide to forego talking to a lawyer and follow the instructions as you understand them. Whether you have to give testimony or submit information, taking this step alone may not be in your best interests.

Respond With an Attorney

This is the ideal way to reply to a subpoena. Having your legal counsel help respond to a subpoena guarantees some crucial analysis. For instance, you have a constitutional right to avoid incriminating yourself. If your attorney believes you have a right to take the fifth, you will want them on your side when responding to the court.

Work With an Experienced Local Attorney

Regardless of your relationship to the court proceedings, receiving a subpoena can be a heavy obligation. The situation calls for a clear-eyed understanding of your obligations, especially if someone sues you. Hopefully, this article has helped you understand “how is a subpoena legally served to someone.”

In addition, you will want to evaluate any chance there may be of incriminating yourself. Send a request for a consultation with any type of lawyer through our website today. You can also speak to one of our helpful representatives by calling (866) 345-6784.

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