If you receive a judge’s order to be a witness in a criminal court case, you must go to court at the date, time and place mentioned in the order. It is your duty to help the case run smoothly. If you refuse, you can be arrested and brought before the judge by force.
Witnesses answer questions about things they saw, heard or experienced that relate to the case. Answering these questions is also called “testifying”.
Testifying in Court: It’s an Order!
When a lawyer asks you to testify in a criminal trial, you can agree to go voluntarily. In this case, you might not get an order by a judge to testify. These orders are called a “summons to appear” or “subpoena”.
If you don’t want to testify, or if a lawyer wants to make sure you show up, you could receive a subpoena.
A subpoena is a document in which a judge orders you to testify. You will receive it in the mail, or a police officer or bailiff will deliver it to you personally. A subpoena contains important information including the date, time and place you need to testify. A subpoena sometimes tells you to bring certain objects or documents with you to court and show them to the judge.
A subpoena is an order by a judge, and you must respect it.
Unable or Unwilling to Testify
After you receive a subpoena, it could happen that something important prevents you from going to court. For example, you might have surgery on the same day as your court appearance.
In this case, you must ask the judge to cancel the subpoena.
Important! Until the subpoena is cancelled, you have a duty to testify in court.
If you have a duty to testify but don’t go, a judge can issue a warrant for your arrest.
This means police officers can arrest you and bring you to court by force. You can also be fined or jailed for preventing the case from going smoothly.