Can You Be Served a Subpoena Over the Phone?

November 22, 2023

A subpoena is a legal request for an individual to appear in court to testify as a witness or produce documents for a court case and with a rapid integration of technology into the legal system, you could be wondering if it is legal to be served a subpoena over the phone.

While serving a subpoena by phone is not standard practice, the process may involve communications over the phone. Nonetheless, it’s best to consult our experienced process servers at On-Call Legal if you’re unsure of whether phone communication is part of a valid subpoena service.

In this article, you’ll learn whether a subpoena can be legally served over the phone and what you need to do when you receive a subpoena.

What is a Subpoena?

What is a Subpoena?

A subpoena is a legal document that mandates an individual to appear before a court to testify or produce documents or any item related to a court case or other legal proceedings such as an investigation. It is issued by a court, government agencies, or an attorney.

If you fail to comply with a subpoena, you may face legal consequences, such as contempt of court charges. If you receive a subpoena, you may have the right to challenge it in court if you were not served properly or believe it is not specific enough, unfairly burdensome, or if there are other valid legal reasons for non-compliance.

Can You Be Served a Subpoena Over the Phone?

Can You Be Served a Subpoena Over the Phone?

Serving a subpoena over the phone is not a standard or common practice in legal proceedings. Subpoenas are generally served in person, by process servers, or through a certified mail. The exact method used in a case depends on the jurisdiction and the rules of the court hearing the case.

However, telephone communication may be needed in some part of the process. Examples of activities that may involve phone communication in serving a subpoena include:

Verification of Identity

To make sure the subpoena is issued to the right person, the court may contact the person by phone to verify their identity.


Serving a subpoena typically requires physical delivery to the person served. Nonetheless, attorneys or legal authorities may inform individuals through a phone call that they will be served with a subpoena. Over the phone, they may notify the recipient about details such as date, time, and location for appearing in court or providing documents.

Coordinating the Process

Beyond notifying recipients, attorneys may use phone calls to plan the service of a subpoena. Logistics details they may discuss over the phone include the most suitable time and place for the recipient to receive the subpoena or coordinate with a process server.

Types of Subpoena

Types of Subpoena

There are three types of subpoena: subpoena duces tecum, deposition subpoena, and witness subpoena.

Subpoena Duces Tecum

Also known as a ‘Subpoena for the production of documents’, subpoena duces tecum is used to order the subpoenaed individual to submit specific documents or evidence related to a court proceeding. This type of subpoena includes the evidence that will be examined in court, the case information, and how to contact the requesting party.

It requires the party to either deliver the documents in person (personal service) or scan and email them at a particular date and time.

The subpoena also states the deadline for the delivery of the documents. Lawyers and attorneys issue a subpoena duces tecum to support the witness’s testimony during a trial as a crucial piece of evidence. Subpoena duces tecum must be properly served and must comply with the California Code of Civil Procedure.

Some examples of documents that may be requested through a subpoena duces tecum include:

  • Business recordssuch as financial statements, consumer records, invoices, receipts, and ledgers and other bank records
  • Medical records
  • Digital evidence such as computer files, electronic records, and other digital evidence.
  • Contracts and agreements
  • Employment recordssuch as personnel files, payroll records
  • Communication records such as emails and text messages
  • Government records such as public records, permits, licenses
  • Personal records such as driver’s license number, diaries or personal correspondence, if they are relevant to the legal matter

Deposition Subpoena

Also known as a discovery subpoena, a deposition subpoena requires the witness to swear under an oath to testify or provide documents. All related documents must be accessible to the court. The deposition subpoena involves attorneys for both parties asking the witness questions while on record. These subpoenas are issued mainly for civil proceedings and not criminal proceedings, so they are sometimes called civil subpoenas.

Subpoena Ad Testificandum

Subpoena Ad Testificandum is also known as a Witness Subpoena. It requires the witness to appear in court in person, especially for a court hearing. Here, the witness may also be required to submit important related documents before they testify.

What to Do If You Receive a Subpoena

What to Do If You Receive a Subpoena

If you receive a subpoena, you need to take it seriously and respond appropriately. Here are general steps to consider:

1. Read the Subpoena Carefully

Review the subpoena thoroughly to understand the nature of the request. Find out whether it is requires physical appearance and testimony or producing documents.

2. Note the Deadline

Take note of any deadlines specified in the subpoena for compliance as failing to meet these deadlines may have legal consequences.

3. Contact an Attorney

An experienced attorney can provide guidance on how to respond to a subpoena, protect your rights, and navigate the legal process. If you have any concerns or questions about the subpoena, it’s advisable to consult with an attorney for guidance.

4. Provide Relevant Documents

Preserve all relevant records if the subpoena requests documents. This may include electronic files, emails, contracts, or any other items specified in the subpoena.

5. Prepare for the Testimony

Consider discussing the matter with your attorney to understand the nature of the questions you may face if the subpoena requires your testimony. During the testimony, provide accurate information.

6. Determine Privileges

Consult with your attorney to determine whether any legal privileges, such as attorney-client privilege or doctor-patient privilege, may apply to the information requested. Privileged information may be protected from disclosure. Also, you may request witness fees to cover costs such as transportation.

7. Challenge the Subpoena if Necessary

You reserve the right to challenge the subpoena if you consider the request irrelevant, unnecessarily burdensome, or covered by a legal privilege.

8. Comply with the Subpoena

If you confirm that the subpoena is valid, be sure to fully comply by the specified deadline.

9. Document the Process

Keep a record of all communications and actions related to the subpoena. This documentation may be useful in the future if any issues arise.

The Legal Purpose and Power of a Subpoena

The Legal Purpose and Power of a Subpoena

A subpoena serves a crucial legal purpose in the judicial system since it compels individuals to provide testimony or produce evidence relevant to a legal proceeding. Here are some key purposes and effects of a subpoena.

  • Subpoena compels people to testify as witnesses in legal proceedings, ensuring that the court has access to relevant first-person information for fair judgment and resolution of cases.
  • It also helps the court or parties to a case to obtain relevant documents, records, and other forms of evidence necessary for a thorough investigation or trial.
  • In criminal cases, subpoenas are frequently used during grand jury investigations. Grand juries issue subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify and produce evidence, aiding the grand jury in determining whether there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges.
  • The power of a subpoena is in its ability to enforce compliance. Failure to comply with a subpoena can result in legal consequences, such as being held in contempt of court and such charges may lead to fines, imprisonment, or other legal penalties.
  • Subpoenas contribute to the fairness of legal proceedings by ensuring that all relevant information is presented to the court. This helps parties on both sides of a case to present factual arguments based on the available evidence.

It’s important to note that how subpoenas are issued and enforced depends on the specific rules and civil procedure governing a jurisdiction. Additionally, you have the right to dispute a subpoena if you consider the subpoena irrelevant or not served properly.

To be sure a subpoena is properly served or verify if you were served correctly, you may need to engage the services of a professional process server. You can contact our expert attorneys at On-Call Legal to book an appointment and get started.

Alternative Methods of Subpoena Service

As phone subpoena service is not a standard practice under most jurisdictions, a valid subpoena is served via one of the following ways:

Personal Service

A process server or a non-party individual can personally deliver the subpoena to the intended recipient. The person serving the subpoena must be at least 18 years old and must not be a party to the case.

Substituted Service

This involves leaving the subpoena with an adult related to the recipient at the recipient’s home or workplace, on their behalf. After issuing substituted service, the server may need to mail a copy to the recipient’s last known address.

Electronic Service

In certain cases and with court approval, electronic service (e-service) may be allowed. This could involve sending the subpoena using a certified email with return receipt or through an online portal.

Service by Publication

In cases where the recipient’s location is unknown, the server may publish notice of the subpoena in a newspaper as a means of notifying the individual.

Challenges and Controversies of Subpoena Service by Phone

Serving a subpoena over the phone presents some challenges that may affect the process and result in improper service of process. Let’s explore some of the challenges below:

  • Most jurisdictions require subpoenas to be served in person, by mail, or through other prescribed methods to ascertain due process. Serving by phone may not be legally recognized and may potentially invalidate the subpoena.
  • It might be challenging to communicate the detailed legal instructions and requirements contained in a subpoena, hence, the recipient might not fully understand their obligations.
  • There’s a higher risk of non-compliance considering the uncertainties and potential for misunderstanding with phone service.
  • It’s difficult to verify the identity of the recipient over the phone
  • When a subpoena is served in person or through certified mail, there’s a clear record of receipt. With phone service, it might be challenging to obtain a reliable acknowledgment of receipt.

What is the Future of Subpoena Service?

Today, subpoena services play a major role in the efficient gathering of evidence and ensuring the smooth flow of court proceedings. It is important to stay informed about emerging trends and developments. Below are certain factors to take into account:

Remote Subpoena Services

Remote services are a great way to make the service process more convenient and flexible, enabling witnesses to comply with subpoenas from anywhere.

Technological Advancements

The introduction of electronic subpoenas and digital case management systems can transform any subpoena process. Embracing these advancements can improve the efficiency of operations onsite and off-site.

Privacy and Security Considerations

Since subpoenas are about disclosing sensitive information, it is important to attain a maximum privacy and security system. As much as legal experts are available to provide advice, they must also imbibe good cybersecurity measures to protect private information.


A subpoena is a powerful tool that helps the court and parties to a case gather relevant evidence for court proceedings. Whether you have received a subpoena or want to issue a subpoena, it is important to seek legal counsel from experienced professionals to help you stay compliant.

At On-Call Legal, we’re an experienced team of legal professionals dedicated to providing unparalleled process service and support. From court filings, research, and service of process to print and litigation support, we offer a wide variety of services to meet all your attorney and messenger service needs. Contact us today to get started.

On-demand legal services with arranging services from eFiling to organizing and preparing your subpoena for records and/or personal appearance and much more.

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