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Been Subpoenaed? What Can Happen If You Refuse to Testify

Fake Dictionary, Dictionary definition of the word subpoena. including key descriptive words.
By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

You've been served ... with a subpoena.

The prosecutor is calling you to testify against your boyfriend, father, boss, close friend. But, you're no snitch. You don't want to be the one to put them in jail. Or, you just don't want to bother with the hassle of testifying.

What can happen if you refuse to testify?

What Is a Subpoena?

A subpoena, which literally means "under penalty," is a court order requiring you to provide information. A subpoena ad testificandum requires you to testify in court, at a deposition, or to some other legal authority. A subpoena duces tecum requires you to produce documents or tangible evidence.


Since a subpoena is a court order, refusal to comply can result in contempt of court charge, punishable by jail, a fine, or both.

Do you remember Barry Bond's case? His trainer and childhood friend, Greg Anderson, spent over 400 days in jail for contempt of court. He repeatedly refused to testify against Bonds despite being subpoenaed and ordered to do so by the court.

While refusing to testify can be contempt of court, there are certain situations where you can legitimately refuse to comply with a subpoena:


Attorney-client privilege protects an attorney from being compelled to testify to attorney-client communications. Doctor-patient confidentiality prevents a doctor from testifying to a patient's private medical information without the patient's consent. Marital communications privilege protects a spouse from having to testify to communications with the other spouse that occurred during a marriage.

Fifth Amendment

Under the Fifth Amendment, you can refuse to testify to self-incriminating evidence. This will only work if the testimony can incriminate you. If you've received immunity from prosecution, however, the Fifth Amendment will not protect you if you refuse to testify.

So, if you've been subpoenaed and do not want to testify, consult with a experienced criminal defense attorney to see if any of these privileges apply to you, or you could face jail time if you don't show up.

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