For most New York residents, a subpoena is nothing more than a vague concept: a piece of paper that summons people to testify in court. The reality is that were you to be accused of a crime, many of the people you know or the organizations with which you are affiliated could be bound by these documents to provide testimony or evidence against you.
The good news is that you would also probably be able to utilize subpoenas in your defense. These powerful formal actions are, in fact, often the main way either side of a case gains access to evidence.
FindLaw divides subpoenas into two main categories:
- Those requiring a person to provide court testimony
- Calls to submit documents to a court for review and consideration
The latter documentary subpoenas, known technically by the Latin term "subpoena duces tecum", are often more common, especially in cases regarding accusations of white-collar crime. For example, a prosecutor in a theft case might request documents substantiating the state's claims of wrongdoing, whereas the defense could potentially obtain and review financial records of the alleged victims to find inconsistencies in the allegations.
In some cases, a prosecutor might ask a family member to testify against you. This would likely require a subpoena. That said, anyone prosecuting you could face some complications obtaining evidence from your spouse, as New York law grants special privileges to married couples in this regard.
This privilege is by no means as comprehensive a protection as the Fifth Amendment, but it could protect you and your spouse from incriminating each other. However, this is not meant as specific legal advice, so please think of it as a simple introduction to the subject matter.