The Challenge of Subpoening Witnesses for Criminal Trials

In my approximately 25 years as a trial attorney, I have often run across the problem of locating witnesses and making sure that they attend at trial.  Subpoenas, which are court orders for a witness to appear at trial, should be issued within 25 to 30 days prior to trial to make sure the witness can be found.

If a witness has changed locations, moved out of state or is unable to be located, your criminal defense attorney will possibly have to hire an investigator to find the witness. When the witness has moved to another state, your lawyer can issue Letters Rogatory – a request to the court in the witness’s new location to issue a subpoena. This takes time.

What I do with my clients is that I try to meet with them at least 60 days in advance of trial to obtain new witnesses or new addresses which need to be subpoenaed for trial. This 30 day period will give us time to adjust to any new addresses or any witnesses that are out of state.

It is important to remember that witnesses and credible evidence are critical to the successful resolution of your case. Anything you can do to assist your criminal attorney to locate witnesses can make a difference to the ultimate outcome of your criminal trial. For example, I handled a case where the victim claimed that my client had stolen a certain item from her home. We were able to locate a witness and subpoena her to attend the trial. This witness testified that my client was at a totally different location at the time of the theft, resulting in a complete dismissal of all charges.

In general terms, it is the attorney’s responsibility to make sure that witnesses are properly subpoenaed before trial. However, it is also your responsibility as the client to keep the attorney apprised of any new witnesses and any changes of witnesses’ addresses. This way, your attorney will have ample time to issue the subpoena and make sure the witnesses shows up to testify. If for some reason the witness cannot be subpoenaed or refuses to answer the subpoena, your attorney may request assistance from the Court in order to make sure you have proper and credible evidence available at your trial.