During an investigation into a criminal or civil matter, witnesses may be subpoenaed to court to supply evidence, such as documents and DNA, and to testify against defendants and report crimes. In some cases, obtaining witness testimonies and evidence is easy. In other cases, witnesses are reluctant to comply. If you’ve been subpoenaed, do you have to comply?
What is a Subpoena?
A subpoena is a document that orders a person to provide testimony during an investigation. In addition to appearing before the investigative body, the individual may also be required to produce documents and other evidence relevant to the case. Subpoenas are not typically issued to willing witnesses who are enthusiastic to come forward; they are generally reserved for those who initially refuse to appear. Ignoring or disobeying the orders within a subpoena may result in civil or criminal penalties. A Boston criminal defense lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been subpoenaed.
Once again, the Trump administration has brought some lesser-known legal situations into the spotlight. Take retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, for example. The president’s former national security adviser is caught in the middle of two investigations into the campaign’s Russian ties leading into the 2016 election. As Flynn is not particularly eager to testify, a subpoena was issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee. But Flynn declined the request. Is that allowed?
Can I Plead the Fifth?
The Fifth Amendment of the constitution protects individuals against self-incrimination by preventing any person from being compelled to provide evidence that is likely to be incriminating in a subsequent criminal case. Flynn invoked these rights in the above case by pleading the Fifth. But this right is not absolute. A person can only plead the Fifth with regard to testimonial evidence, as opposed to identifying evidence, such as DNA and fingerprints. Further, only individuals can plead the Fifth; corporations don’t have this right. This is why Flynn’s businesses are being served with subpoenas, requesting documents related to the ongoing investigation.
What is Contempt of Court?
Contempt of court is the act of being disobedient or discourteous to a court of law in a way that defies its authority. If charged with contempt, you may face criminal penalties. A MA defense lawyer can help you determine if you are at risk of being charged with contempt.
If pleading the Fifth is a privilege, how can I be charged with contempt of court for invoking that privilege? There are certain situations in which the privilege against self-incrimination can be waived. For example, a defendant in a criminal case can plead the Fifth, but if he or she chooses to testify, the privilege has been waived and the defendant can be cross-examined. In another example, if a witness refuses to testify after being given immunity (prevents testimony from being used against the witness in the future), he or she can be held in contempt of court. Most charges of contempt involve jail time and further penalties. Continue reading