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Warrant vs. Subpoena: What's the Difference?

Warrants and subpoenas have some striking similarities. For example, both can require you to give up personal items or even require your presence in court. It is important to know, however, that what you can be compelled to do varies greatly and the legal ways to fight either are completely different arguments. In addition, penalties for violation of each are unalike.

A subpoena is a writ (i.e. a written command in the name of court or other legal authority) issued to require action on your part. A subpoena duces tecum is used to compel a person or entity to produce documents for evidence. Generally, a subpoena can be issued by an attorney so long as they fill out the appropriate documentation under oath and follow the appropriate service of process procedures. If you have been subpoenaed, and the subpoena requires you to produce certain documents which you believe are outside the scope of the issue, an experienced attorney can help you fight the subpoena. However, if you simply refuse to comply without evidence to refute your justification, you can be held in contempt of court.

To contrast with a subpoena duces tecum, a search warrant will also compel you to allow others access to your private belongings but the standard required to issue a search warrant is stricter. For example, a search warrant may only be issued by a judge having jurisdiction in the area where the desired search is to be performed. It requires a showing of probable cause under penalty of perjury. If an officer does not obtain a search warrant prior to a search, then he or she has violated your constitutional rights. For more information regarding unreasonable search and seizure, see our recent discussion on how the U.S. Supreme Court recently changed your expectation of privacy. Illegal searches and seizures happen frequently, and if you’ve been searched with or without a warrant, your best course of action is to hire an attorney.

Does an Arrest Warrant Require Testimony?

A subpoena testificandum requires you to give live testimony, so rather than requiring you to provide some other form of evidence, you are required to be physically present in some capacity. Again, the law does not require a judge to issue the subpoena and violation of it can result in charges of contempt.

There are two categories of warrants that result in arrest in Florida, and in most jurisdictions: A bench warrant and an arrest warrant. A bench warrant is generally issued for failure to appear in court or for traffic violations that go unresolved. An arrest warrant varies from a bench warrant in that police officers will seek you out to arrest you. Additionally, sometimes the judge may refuse to allow bond if the reason for the warrant is serious enough. Both a bench warrant and an arrest warrant can result in police custody. In criminal court, however, a judge cannot compel a person charged with a crime to testify because the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prevents the courts from requiring self-incrimination.

It is Not too Late for Legal Help

Although there are similarities, warrants and subpoenas are different legal tools used in a court of law and both can have significant impacts on the outlook of your case. Whether you’ve already been subpoenaed, searched or arrested, it is never too early or too late to contact the criminal defense attorneys at the office of Jeffrey S. Weiner in South Florida. With decades of experience in criminal defense, we the have legal skill needed for your case.

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