What Witnesses Should Know

What is a Subpoena?

A subpoena is an official notice to appear in court at the time and place specified. You are called to testify because it is believed that you have information relevant to a criminal case against the defendant. The law requires this information to be given in court, under oath. Willful disobedience of a subpoena may result in a warrant being issued for your arrest.

Once You Receive a Subpoena

You may receive your subpoena by mail or in person. Please sign and return the acknowledgement of service immediately. 

It is important that you promptly inform the district attorney's office of any phone or address changes, or if there is a problem with your appearing in court.

Your subpoena may indicate that you have been placed "on call." This means that you will be notified when you are needed in court, rather than appearing at a specified time. This system reduces the amount of time witnesses spend waiting to testify. If you are placed "on call," you must be available to testify in court within twenty minutes to an hour.

The week of the court event, you may check your subpoena status here.

District Attorney

The case in which you will testify is a criminal matter. The District Attorney's office is responsible for prosecuting the defendant. The name of the Deputy District Attorney assigned to this case is shown on the subpoena.

Defense Attorney

A public defender or private attorney will represent the defendant's interests.

The public defender, private attorney, or investigator working for the defense often contacts witnesses.

You may speak to the defense if you wish, but you are under no legal obligation to discuss the crime with any of these individuals. If you choose to speak to the defense, you may request that a Deputy District Attorney or representative be present.

Appearance Time

Court proceedings can be complex. Because of this, there is no way to know exactly how long a case will take or when you will be called to testify. In order to pass the time, it is suggested you bring a book or some handiwork to do if you have to wait. If you have children, make adequate arrangements for their care. The court does not have childcare facilities.

There is also a possibility that the case will not take place on schedule. A hearing or trial will not occur if:

  1. The defendant pleads guilty
  2. The case is dismissed by the prosecution or court
  3. The case is rescheduled to another date; you will be notified of any such change