Washington LawHelp

How to Subpoena Witnesses and Documents

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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Download Entire Packet with Instructions and Forms

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*This publication has citations for anyone who wants to do more research on their own. A citation tells you where to find the law or court case we mentioned.

Do I need this packet?

Yes, if:

  • you are going to a hearing or trial where you will be giving evidence AND

  • you need to make sure that a witness shows up or that someone brings documents or other items

You can have the person served with a subpoena issued by the court clerk.

*Special rules may apply when you want a health care provider to bring health care information. RCW 70.02.060.

What is in this packet?

This packet has these forms and instructions for them:

  • Motion and Declaration for Issuance of Subpoena

  • Order for Issuance of Subpoena

  • Subpoena

  • Affidavit of Service

Some words to know:

Affidavit:  written statement made under penalty of perjury.

Ex parte:  Going before the court without notifying the other party. Can also mean the courtroom where you see the judge without notifying the other party.

Subpoena:  Latin for "under penalty."

How do I use a subpoena?

If you are not a lawyer, the court clerk must issue the subpoena for you. You must do all of these:

  1. Fill out the forms the way this packet tells you to.

  2. Have a judge or court commissioner sign the order to issue the subpoena.

  3. Have the court clerk issue the subpoena.

  4. Make a copy of the subpoena for the witness you are serving.

  5. Keep the original for yourself.

  6. Serve the subpoena on the witness.

  7. Bring the original subpoena form to court on the day you want the witness there.

How do I fill out the forms?

Caption – First, fill out the caption. It is at the top of the first page. Copy the information for the caption from one of the forms already filed in the case. Put the county, parties' names, and case (or cause) number.

"TO:" – Put the name and address of the witness or person with evidence you want to come to the hearing.

PLACE OF TESTIMONY: Put the name and address of the Superior Court for your county.

COURTROOM: Put the room number. (Call the court clerk for this info.)

DATE AND TIME: Put the date and time you want the witness to show up. If it is a short evidentiary hearing, you may want all your witnesses there at the scheduled start time. If this is a trial, you should probably not have all your witnesses there at the scheduled start time. The court usually deals with other matters before letting witnesses testify. (Examples: marking exhibits that will be placed in evidence; allowing each side to make an opening statement.)  You should allow at least a half-hour for these matters.

After that, you may want to schedule your witnesses fifteen to thirty minutes apart, depending on how long you think it will take you to question each one.

*Your hearing/trial may not start on time. Send your witnesses a letter or note explaining this.

You are to bring the following books… Check this box if it applies. In the blank spaces below, list the name or description of each document or thing you want the witness to bring. Be as specific as possible. Example:  If you are asking for a letter, state the names of the people sending and getting the letter, and its date. If you do not know the specific names of documents you need, or to be sure you get everything you want, add "and all other documents concerning ____________," filling in the name/date/event you are requesting the documents for.

Leave the rest of this subpoena for the judge/court commissioner to fill out.

What if I am subpoenaing more than one witness?

  • With professionals like counselors, teachers, and/or doctors, you should arrange to notify them by phone when the hearing/trial starts and give them a better estimate of when you will actually need them.

If you are the plaintiff/petitioner, you will call your witnesses first. You should schedule your witnesses for the first day of trial.

If you are the defendant/respondent, the court will call your witnesses after Plaintiff's/Petitioner's witnesses are done testifying.

Ask Plaintiff/Petitioner how many witnesses s/he plans to call and how long they should take. Try to schedule your witnesses right after Plaintiff's/Petitioner's witnesses are expected to finish.

How do I get the forms signed and the subpoenas issued?

Call the Superior Court clerk to ask.

How do I serve the signed subpoena?

A subpoena must be served personally by someone age 18 or over who is not a party to the case. You cannot serve the subpoena yourself. You can use a sheriff or professional process server. It is easiest and cheapest to use an adult friend or relative.

Your server must do one of these:

  1. Personally hand the witness a copy of the subpoena, wherever s/he can find the witness.

  2. Leave a copy of the subpoena at the witness's home with another adult who lives there.

Your server must then fill out and sign a paper describing how s/he served the subpoena. A sheriff or professional process server usually provides this proof of service form as part of serving the person. If your server does not, give him/her the form in this packet to fill out and return to you.

A friend or relative who serves the subpoena must fill out the "Affidavit of Service" form in this packet. You can fill out the caption. The server must do the rest.

After you get the completed form back, make yourself a copy. Bring the original to court (with the original subpoena) in case the witness does not come to court or bring what you asked for.

Does it cost money to subpoena witnesses or documents?

It depends. A sheriff or professional process server will charge for service. Ask beforehand how much.

If you are asking a witness to bring documents, pictures, or other evidence, the witness may ask the court to order you to pay the reasonable cost of getting/copying the evidence. Witnesses can also ask for a "witness fee" for testifying. "Expert" witnesses, such as counselors, doctors, or therapists, may require you to pay them for their time testifying at their usual hourly rate. You must negotiate this ahead of time.

*There is no fee for testimony by court appointed special advocates (CASA) and Family Court Services workers.

What about witnesses who live farther away?

You must pay extra fees to subpoena a witness who lives:

  • outside the county OR

  • more than twenty miles from the courthouse

The judge/court commissioner may add an allowance for meals, lodging, and travel expenses when signing the order to issue a subpoena of an expert witness. Those amounts will be written on the subpoena and must be presented to the witness at the time the subpoena is served. The judge/court commissioner may add more for meals, lodging, and travel at the time of hearing/trial.

How long does the witness have to stay?

Usually s/he can leave after s/he has testified AND been cross-examined (questioned by the other side). The judge could order him/her to stay longer. Example:  Either party may ask the court to order the witness to stay to respond to a later witness's testimony.

What if the witness does not obey the subpoena?

If the witness does not come to the hearing/trial or bring what you asked for, give the judge/court commissioner the original subpoena form and proof of service. After the hearing/trial, file the original subpoenas and affidavits of service with the court clerk.

If the witness has no good excuse for not coming to court or bringing the items requested, the court may hold him/her in contempt. That could include a fine and/or jail time.

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of October 2016.
© 2016 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial use only.)

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Last Review and Update: Oct 16, 2016
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