Being Summoned To Testify
I started typing my brief after 5:00 p.m., once all interruptions had left the building. The next time I looked at the clock it was 10:30 p.m. I was tired, and the words “Tylenol” and “bed” came to mind. I decided to call it a night.
As I watched the computer screen shut down in a half daze, I heard the phone ring. I tilted my head toward the phone in my office, glared at it, and I thought to myself, “It’s either my wife or a client with an emergency.”
Given the potential of the former, I decided to pick up the receiver.
“Attorney Robert LaBre speaking, how may I help you?” I said.
“Yeah, I have a question about a subpoena I received in the mail today,” he said in manner that sounded like he thought we were simply carrying on a conversation we’d already started.
I leaned back in my leather, executive chair, put my feet up on my desk, and started to ask him questions.
He received a subpoena to testify as a witness in a criminal trial on behalf of the defense. Apparently the defendant stood accused of first degree home invasion, a felony punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment and $5,000 fine, excluding restitution.
The subpoena came via certified restricted mailing, and he signed for it. The envelope the subpoena came in provided a cashier’s check for witness fees too.
“So can I get out of having to show up?” He asked.
“Why can’t you show up to testify?” I asked.
“I don’t want to miss work. And I don’t want to get caught up in this criminal trial, that’s someone else’s problem.”
I grinned to myself, “So, it’s not as though it’s impossible for you to show up, you just don’t want to, right?”
“Well . . . kindda,” he said in a squeaky voice.
“Then you can’t skip,” I said. “You need to be there. You’ve been paid the witness fees and service came via certified restricted mailing. Service of the subpoena was proper.
“The only other out you have from being required to testify is if it were impossible for you to be there, such as an emergency. But even then, you need to contact the attorney who sent the subpoena and let him know your reasons for not being able to attend.”
“But I don’t wanna go.” he said. “Court scares me. What’s the consequences if I skip?”
“You could be held in contempt of court,” I said.
“What’s that mean?”
“Jail or fines or both, in an amount the court deems proper.”
“Man, that sounds pretty severe,” he said.
“It is. But think about the ripple effect you’re failure to appear has on the trial. The attorney who sent it to you might ask for an adjournment until you appeared to testify.
“There’s probably a jury, and by not showing up, you’re wasting their time and the State’s money, not to mention the judge’s patience.
“Now picture this,” I continued. “You don’t show up. You’re eventually forced to appear before the judge. All this time and money has been wasted, and the judge asks you, ‘Sir, why didn’t you appear before the court on the time and date stated in the subpoena?
“And you reply, ‘Well judge, I just didn’t wanna.’ How do you think the judge is going to react?” I asked as a rhetorical question.
“Probably not so good.” He said in a low voice.
“That’s an understatement. You’ll probably feel a sharp pain in your forehead from the gavel bouncing off of it. My advice to you is to show up and participate.
“Everyone’s nervous about testifying in Court. It’s no cake walk to take an oath and then tell people what you know about a given situation. But Court isn’t designed to be a easy, it’s designed to get to the truth. And that’s all you should do, tell the truth as you know it. You do that, then no matter what happens, you’ll have no regrets.”