Definition of subpoena in US English:


(also subpoena ad testificandum)


  • 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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    order, command, directive, direction, decree, edict, injunction, mandate, dictate, commandment, diktat, demand, bidding, requirement, stipulation, charge, ruling, pronouncement
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[with object]Law
  • 1Summon (someone) with a subpoena.

    ‘the Queen is above the law and cannot be subpoenaed’
    • ‘In addition, in July several people were subpoenaed to testify about their protest activities before a grand jury convened in Missouri.’
    • ‘The appellant was unable to subpoena the necessary witnesses.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The defence could have subpoenaed him but they could not force him to talk to them.’
    • ‘Your office could do more, the witnesses were not subpoenaed and brought along, and the magistrate is sure to have plenty to do.’
    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’
      • ‘It doesn't have the power to subpoena documents, evidence, or testimony, either.’
      • ‘The grand jury subpoenaed documents from Condit last year.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.