How to Subpoena a Witness or Documents
Court How-Tos (Civil Procedure)
This article answers frequently asked questions about issuing and serving subpoenas in Texas.
What is a subpoena?
A subpoena is a legal document that commands a person or entity to come and testify in a legal proceeding, such as a hearing, trial, or deposition.
A subpoena could also command someone to produce documents or other items at a required time and place. When a subpoena asks for documents or other items, the subpoena is called a “subpoena duces tecum.”
A subpoena can also command someone to both testify and produce documents or items.
All subpoenas must follow certain requirements. Issuing a subpoena can be time-sensitive, and there are many rules that govern subpoenas in Texas
Who can be subpoenaed?
If you want someone who is not part of the litigation (a nonparty) to provide information relevant to the litigation, you will likely need to subpoena them. Nonparties may include, but are not limited to, any of the following types of third parties:
- Testifying witnesses (e.g., family, friends, employers, etc.)
- Expert witnesses not under your control
- Law enforcement
- CPS caseworkers
Can I subpoena someone on my own, as a self-represented litigant?
No. Unless you are an attorney or officer of the court, you cannot subpoena someone on your own. You will need the court’s permission. If an attorney does not represent you, you must request that the court or court clerk issue the subpoena.
Where can I find a subpoena form?
First, check the district or county clerk’s website in the Texas county where your case is pending. Many counties will have their own forms online. You can find a list of all Texas County websites here.
Look for the terms “subpoena request form,” “application for subpoena,” or “request for issuance of subpoena.”
Some counties may have a general request form where a subpoena is one of several actions you can request, while others may have a specific application or request for issuance of a subpoena. You will need to fill out and sign the document and then follow the procedure the county requires for submitting a subpoena request.
Call the clerk’s office where your case is pending for more specific instructions. Keep in mind that the clerks are not attorneys and cannot give you legal advice. See What Court Clerks and Personnel Can and Cannot Do.
If you do not find a form and your case is in a justice court, a subpoena request form, as well as subpoena and subpoena duces tecum forms, can be found on the Texas Justice Court Training Center website. Look in the "civil procedure forms" section for trial, judgment, and appeals.
The following large counties have forms for subpoenas in civil cases:
- Bexar County – Request for Issuance of Subpoena
- Dallas County – Subpoena Request Form
- El Paso County – Subpoena Request
- Harris County – Guide for an eSubpoena Request
- Lubbock County – Civil Subpoena Application
- McLennan County – Application for Subpoena
- Nueces County – Guided Form for Civil Subpoena Request
- Orange County – Application for Issuance of Subpoena and/or Subpoena Duces Tecum
- Tarrant County – Instructions and Application for Subpoena
- Travis County – Justice Court 1 Subpoena Request
- Tyler County – Request for Issuance of Subpoena
Can I prepare my own subpoena to give to the clerk or court?
You may. This will depend on the county where your case is located. Check your county’s website first.
If you do prepare your own subpoena, the rules are very specific regarding what must be included in a valid subpoena. Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 176 addresses what to include in subpoenas if your case is in a district court or county court. Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 500.8 addresses what must be included in a subpoena if your case is in a justice court.
At minimum, the subpoena is required to state:
- That the subpoena is issued in the name of The State of Texas.
- The style of the lawsuit. The style of the lawsuit is the title of the lawsuit that you can find on the original petition (such as “In the Marriage of . . .”; “In the Interest of the Following Children . . .”; or the Plaintiff’s name v. the Defendant’s name).
- The cause number.
- The court in which the lawsuit is pending.
- A place where the court can fill in the date the subpoena was issued.
- The person to whom the subpoena is directed.
- The time, place, and nature of the action required by the person to whom the subpoena is directed, such as appearing for testimony at a trial or deposition and/or producing documents or other items.
- The party—and attorney, if applicable—at whose request the subpoena is issued.
- The signature of the person issuing the subpoena. If you are not represented by an attorney, this would mean the clerk or the judge’s signature.
- Finally, the subpoena should always include the following statement: “Failure by any person without adequate excuse to obey a subpoena served upon that person may be deemed a contempt of court from which the subpoena is issued and may be punished by fine or confinement, or both.” This statement can be found in Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 176.8(a) (the rule for district and county courts) and Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 500.8(c)(7) (the rule for justice of the peace courts).
Though not required, the subpoena can also contain a place where the witness can sign an acknowledgement accepting the subpoena. The witness is not required to sign, and the subpoena is still proper without this signature.
In addition, the subpoena can have a place where the person who serves the subpoena can make a written statement with details to show there was proper service of the subpoena. Like the witness signature, this information is not required, though it is best practice to include it.
How does the subpoena get to the third party?
A valid subpoena must be served on the recipient by delivering them a copy. Delivery can be made by any person who is not a party to the case and who is at least 18 years old. Delivery is often done by a sheriff or constable, but this is not required. If the witness is represented by an attorney in the proceeding, the subpoena may be served on their attorney instead.
NOTE: As a party to the case, you cannot serve the subpoena yourself.
The best practice is to request the witness sign an acknowledgment accepting the subpoena. The person who serves the subpoena can also make a written statement with details to show there was proper service of the subpoena.
Are there limitations on who can be served with a subpoena?
Yes. The court can only require someone to appear in court or bring documents or items if that person lives or is served within 150 miles of the county where they are being asked to appear.
Are there fees to request a subpoena?
Yes. The party who requests the subpoena must pay the witness fee of $10.
If you request a subpoena duces tecum, the fee is $11.
In addition, if you request the sheriff or constable or a private process server to serve the subpoena, a fee will be charged for the service of the subpoena. This fee will vary based on county and by the individual process server.
If you do not have enough money to pay the court fees, you can ask a judge to waive the court cost for the service of the subpoena. The court will have to find you cannot afford the court costs. Read about how to obtain a waiver for court costs at Court Fees and Fee Waivers.
Can the person being served object to the subpoena?
Yes. Someone may object to a subpoena if it was served improperly, if they live beyond the subpoena range of 150 miles and were not served in the geographic area, or if they have reason to think that they should not have to respond to the subpoena.
If this happens, the person may file an objection or a “Motion to Quash” the subpoena. The person might also file a motion to modify the subpoena or ask the court for protection from compliance with the subpoena under a discovery protective order. This is different from a protective order that can be issued for family violence.
A person can also request that the judge inspect the documents or items in the judge’s office (“in chambers”) and use that inspection to decide if the documents or items should be turned over to the person requesting them. This is called an “in-camera” inspection. An in-camera inspection may be requested in cases where the documents may contain private health information or privileged information.
If the witness files an objection, a motion to quash, a request for a protective order, or a request for an in-camera inspection, you should consult with an attorney regarding your next steps.
What if I am served with a subpoena?
Do not try to evade service of a lawsuit or a subpoena. The lawsuit or the subpoena will not go away simply because you do not cooperate. And the court may also be disappointed if the serving party had to take extra steps to serve you.
Accepting service of the subpoena does not mean you agree with the subpoena’s statements. Acceptance also does not waive your right to object, file a motion to quash, or obtain a discovery protective order from the court.
Note: If you fail to comply with a valid subpoena properly served on you, the court could enter a contempt order against you. This may include a fine or imprisonment for noncompliance.
For more information about how to respond to a subpoena if one is served on you or served on an entity that you have control over, please read Responding to a Texas Civil Subpoena.
Where can I read the law about subpoenas?
The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure are online at the Rules and Forms page of the Texas judicial branch.
Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 176 addresses subpoenas in district and county courts, and Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 500.8 addresses subpoenas in justice courts.
Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules 192 through 193, 199, 200, and 205 discuss how subpoenas can be used in discovery in district and county court proceedings. Read more about discovery here. Speak to a lawyer if you have questions about the discovery process.
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Sections 22.001 and 22.002 addresses the witness fee and who may be subpoenaed in a case.
Are subpoenas the only way I can obtain documents?
No. Depending on the type of information you want; you may be able to access the information under Texas’s Public Information Act.
The Public Information Act is a law that gives individuals access to inspect or copy government records and can be found in the Texas Government Code Chapter 552. The law also details the specific instances when a governmental body can withhold government records from the public.
Responding to a Texas Civil SubpoenaThis Texas Young Lawyers Association brochure explains civil subpoenas in Texas.
Discovery in TexasThis article offers information about the rules governing discovery in Texas.
The Texas Public Information ActThis article discusses Texas’ Public Information Act (PIA), which gives you the right to access certain state government records that are public in...
Court Fees and Fee WaiversIf you don’t have enough money to pay the court fees, you can ask a judge to waive the fees.
Legal Research: Steps to FollowThis article provides an overview of the process of conducting legal research.