Definition of subpoena in US English:


(also subpoena ad testificandum)

nounPlural subpoenas

  • A writ ordering a person to attend a court.

    ‘a subpoena may be issued to compel their attendance’
    ‘they were all under subpoena to appear’
    • ‘Complex legal standards apply to the level of review and judicial oversight necessary before police can obtain the warrants, subpoenas, or court orders required to compel disclosure of these records.’
    • ‘Further, the day-to-day administration of criminal justice functions with many witnesses who are not under subpoena and who attend voluntarily to give evidence.’
    • ‘Under normal law, a plaintiff would file a lawsuit against an offending party and then use the court system to get subpoenas or court orders for information relevant to the lawsuit.’
    • ‘It held that if an individual does not comply with a subpoena or order issued by the Tribunal, he could be held in contempt of the Tribunal and the specific contempt procedure could be set in motion.’
    • ‘Even if it is a US bank which is ordered by a US subpoena, other common law courts have applied traditional conflict-of-laws analysis.’
    order, command, directive, direction, decree, edict, injunction, mandate, dictate, commandment, diktat, demand, bidding, requirement, stipulation, charge, ruling, pronouncement
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verbsubpoenaed, subpoenas, subpoenaing

[with object]Law
  • 1Summon (someone) with a subpoena.

    ‘the Queen is above the law and cannot be subpoenaed’
    • ‘The defence could have subpoenaed him but they could not force him to talk to them.’
    • ‘A Victorian coroner has subpoenaed the man acquitted of one the State's most notorious murders to give evidence at another inquest into the death.’
    • ‘Your office could do more, the witnesses were not subpoenaed and brought along, and the magistrate is sure to have plenty to do.’
    • ‘The appellant was unable to subpoena the necessary witnesses.’
    • ‘In addition, in July several people were subpoenaed to testify about their protest activities before a grand jury convened in Missouri.’
    summon, summons, serve with a summons, serve with a writ, call
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    1. 1.1 Require (a document or other evidence) to be submitted to a court of law.
      ‘the decision to subpoena government records’
      • ‘I wish to subpoena documents from the Medical Board of Victoria…’
      • ‘My learned friend took you to an early stage of the proceedings where the accused had subpoenaed documents.’
      • ‘The grand jury subpoenaed documents from Condit last year.’
      • ‘It doesn't have the power to subpoena documents, evidence, or testimony, either.’
      • ‘Criminal defendants, like civil defendants, should be able to freely conduct depositions, subpoena documents and witnesses, and serve interrogatories.’


Late Middle English (as a noun): from Latin sub poena ‘under penalty’ (the first words of the writ). Use as a verb dates from the mid 17th century.