What Makes a Subpoena Invalid?

January 23, 2024

A subpoena is a legal document that requires an individual or entity to testify as a witness or provide documents relevant to a case or court hearing. As long as a subpoena is valid, you may attract legal consequences if you fail to provide the requirements of the subpoena.

However, a subpoena may become invalid due to improper service, lack of jurisdiction, lack of specific requests, and several other reasons. That’s why it’s recommended you hire an experienced process server to make sure your legal documents are served correctly to avoid legal issues.

At On-Call Legal, our professional process servers deliver legal documents with speed and precision to ensure that your legal proceedings proceed without delay. We deliver 24/7 nationwide – anywhere, anytime, at a guaranteed flat rate pricing with no hidden charges. Schedule a free consultation with us to discuss your process service and guide you throughout the process.

In this article, you will understand the legal requirements of a subpoena, what makes a subpoena invalid, how to challenge an invalid subpoena, and much more. Let’s jump in!

Top 6 Legal Requirements for a Valid Subpoena

Top 6 Legal Requirements for a Valid Subpoena

Although the legal requirements for a subpoena may differ across different jurisdictions, there are some general criteria a subpoena must fulfill to be valid. If a subpoena fails to fulfill any of these requirements, it may become invalid and can be challenged by the recipient. These criteria include:

  1. The Right Legal Authority
  2. Appropriate Purpose
  3. Specificity
  4. Service of Process
  5. Must adhere to Privacy and Privilege Laws
  6. Must have a Reasonable Time for Compliance

The Right Legal Authority

The entity issuing a subpoena must have the legal authority and jurisdiction to do so. Authorized entities include a court, government agency, or an attorney with the legal power to issue subpoenas. The entity must have jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties involved. For instance, a federal court can issue subpoenas for federal cases, while state courts have jurisdiction to issue subpoenas in state-level cases.

Appropriate Purpose

A valid subpoena can request only evidence or testimony that is relevant to the case or investigation. You cannot use a subpoena for purposes that are not related to the court proceeding, such as personal disputes or non-legal issues.


The subpoena must clearly state the specific reason for which it was issued. According to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, every subpoena must state the court that issued it, the title of the action, and its civil action number.

For a subpoena ad testificandum requiring a testimony, the subpoena must state the person, the specific court case, and the date, time, and location for the appearance. It should also specify the nature of the testimony.

For a subpoena duces tecum to produce documents, the subpoena must specify the required documents requested and the person or entity that has the documents. It must also state why the documents are relevant to the case.

Service of Process

Service of Process

The subpoena must be properly served to the relevant party. Proper service also entails making sure that the recipient is aware of the request. For subpoena ad testificandum, it’s generally required to use personal service by a process server. Personal service requires handing the subpoena over in person to the recipient or an authorized representative. For subpoena duces tecum, you can serve via mail, email, or other legally approved means.

Adhering to Privacy and Privilege Laws

A valid subpoena must not violate laws related to the recipients’ privacy and privileges. For instance, it must protect sensitive and confidential information unless otherwise stated by the law. It must also observe different privileges such as attorney-client privilege.

Reasonable Time for Compliance

A valid subpoena should allow a reasonable amount of time for the recipient to comply. The amount of time considered reasonable depends on several factors including the nature of the request, For example, according to the California Department of General Services, you should add five more days to the usual service time if you’re serving a subpoena to produce documents.

How to Challenge an Invalid Subpoena

How to Challenge an Invalid Subpoena

If you receive an invalid subpoena, you can raise a legal dispute to set yourself free from the subpoena’s requirements. Here are some steps to take to challenge an invalid subpoena:

Review the Subpoena

On receiving the subpoena, thoroughly review it to spot potential issues for invalidation such as overly broad requests, non-compliance to requirements, errors, etc. Also, identify who signed and issued it. If an attorney or a court clerk issues it, you can request that the other party work with your schedule. For instance, you both can agree to a video deposition instead of attending the venue.

Seek Legal Counsel

Before you take any step to respond to a subpoena, it’s recommended to seek the counsel and guidance of an attorney. With their experience, they can help you fully understand the subpoena and confirm its validity. They also help you understand your legal rights and obligations as it pertains to your case, whether civil cases or criminal cases.

File a Motion to Quash

If you confirm that the subpoena is invalid, then it’s time to file a motion to quash or modify it. The written motion should include the potential reasons why the court should have the subpoena quashed. This motion is typically filed in the court that issued the subpoena. You can cite relevant laws or provide evidence to support your claims.

Notify The Issuer and Prepare For Court Hearing

Send a notice to the party who issued the subpoena about your objections and your motion to quash or modify. This usually involves serving them with a copy of your motion. Most times, the court will schedule a court date to discuss the motion. Be prepared to present your arguments and any supporting evidence. If the court quashes the subpoena, you no longer have to comply with the initial court order. If the court modifies the subpoena, you’ll need to comply with the modified request.

If the court denies your motion, then you have to comply with the subpoena. Failure to respond accordingly may result in serious legal penalties. Alternatively, you can appeal to a higher court or resolve the matter by negotiating with the party requesting your compliance.

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Responding to Subpoenas

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Responding to Subpoenas

Responding to a subpoena the wrong way may attract legal consequences. You need to be able to identify these mistakes and avoid them whenever you have a process server at your doorstep. Such mistakes include:

  • Ignoring the Subpoena: You may be charged with contempt of court if you don’t acknowledge and/or respond to a valid subpoena. Hence, make sure you acknowledge and take appropriate action as required.
  • No Review: How will you know the right action to take when you don’t even understand the document? You need to have a thorough review of the subpoena so you don’t miss important information such as the nature of the request, timelines, or other specific instructions.
  • Delaying Response or Action: If you delay your response to a subpoena, you might end up not having enough time to gather the required documents or file a motion to quash. As soon as you receive a subpoena, seek legal counsel and take the right steps immediately.
  • Not Seeking Legal Advice: When you try to handle a subpoena without consulting a legal expert, you might misunderstand the requirements or your obligations. That way, you may not fully comply or fulfill your obligations which will probably result in legal consequences. It’s recommended to consult a legal professional to guide you through the process.
  • Failure to Recognize Grounds for Objection: Sometimes, there are valid grounds to object to a subpoena (e.g., relevance, undue burden, or overbreadth). Not recognizing or acting on these can lead to unnecessary compliance.
  • Inadequate Record-Keeping: Failing to keep a record of how the subpoena was handled, including what information was provided and any communications related to it, can create issues, especially if there are later disputes about compliance.
  • Exposing Privileged or Confidential Information: You have the right to protect privileged information such as attorney-client communications. Also, failure to handle confidential information correctly, such as medical records, may cause legal and ethical issues. Be sure to confirm the validity of subpoenas that require disclosure of such information.

Need a Process Server?

Understanding the factors that make a subpoena invalid will help you know when and how best to respond when you’re served court documents. It’s best to seek legal counsel before you take any significant steps to avoid mistakes and stay compliant. Whether you need guidance on how to respond to a subpoena or need a reliable process server to deliver your legal documents, On-Call Legal has got you covered. Give us a call today to deliver your documents to any location nationwide.

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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