Can the White House ignore a subpoena?

Summons to the police

Writing and what's behind it can be quite harmless. Even if the headline “summons” sounds very formal and you may intuitively ask yourself what you did wrong or what tricks you got.

Witness summons

Perhaps the police only need a testimony, be it about the course of an accident, a physical dispute that you saw, or, for example, because a clinic whose patient you were is investigated for billing fraud. Such a concern is no reason to ring the alarm bells. In many cases, the police rely on the help of witnesses on a wide variety of issues if they are to solve crimes effectively.

A subpoena usually states explicitly whether you are to be heard as a witness or as a suspect. It also states who is being investigated and what type of criminal offense is involved. If it is directed against someone else, you should be questioned as a witness and you can go there with a clear conscience (unless the proceedings concern a relative; more on this below). But it is also important to know:

Tip 1:
You don't have to obey a police summons and can go there as well as stay away. The police cannot force a witness or an accused to testify.

Perhaps, contrary to what the police assume, you cannot say anything about the incident in question. Or it affects a family member that you don't want to incriminate. You can report such a reason to the police without hesitation. A short phone call announcing your no-show saves the police officer from waiting for you and the police or the public prosecutor's office to make further attempts to get your statement.

If you just throw away the summons and do not go there, for which there can of course be many different and also good reasons, nobody will be able to accuse you of that. Or it could be that it has been and you never hear of it again. Then the investigation continued in a different way.

But it can just as well be that there is an aftermath: namely that you will then receive a summons from the public prosecutor to be heard by the public prosecutor. If your testimony is important and the investigation does not go any further, the public prosecutor can and will summon you. If this happens, you can no longer simply ignore the charge.

Tip 2:
You must comply with a summons from the public prosecutor's office if you want to avoid the risk of being arrested by the police and forcibly brought before the public prosecutor.

possibly even away from the workplace and in front of all of your colleagues. As a rule, it is therefore recommended that you either follow a witness summons and make the desired testimony or at least cancel the appointment by telephone or in writing with a brief reason.

When witnesses are questioned, the police and the public prosecutor are obliged to instruct them before they have any questions about the matter: both about their duties and about their right not to incriminate themselves and close relatives and to refuse to testify. Likewise, members of certain professional groups, doctors, lawyers, clergymen etc. have the right to refuse to give evidence regarding things that they have learned in the course of their professional practice. The core of the right to refuse to testify is regulated in Sections 52, 53 and 55 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

If such a situation occurs: You have gone there innocently and only notice during the interrogation that the mood and the tide is turning and that you (or a relative) are caught in the crosshairs of questions and suspicions, do not hesitate to pull the emergency brake. In such a situation, explain that you do not want to provide any further information and that you refuse to give evidence. If necessary, just get up, say goodbye, and leave if the officials refuse to accept it. In terms of argumentation, the investigators are usually vastly superior to you and will attempt to persuade you to continue the interrogation. If in doubt, be careful in such a situation: act according to the tried and tested old motto: "Talking is silver, silence is gold". Go and discuss it first with the relative in question, with someone you trust who knows their way around, or with a lawyer who is experienced as a criminal defense attorney.

If you are summoned by the court as a witness, you can find out about your rights and obligations using the witness guide in court


If the summons already contains the statement: “It is intended to question you as a suspect / accused”, then you should react immediately with caution and caution. Then there is something in the bush that is directed against you and aimed at punishment.

Understandably, nobody wants to be punished - apart from special psychological needs - and in a constitutional state nobody can be expected to participate in their own punishment. Rather, it is a completely normal and constitutionally anchored right to be able to defend oneself against punishment by all legal means. Justice, including criminal justice, is a role-playing game with a serious subject, in which the accused (and possibly his lawyer) has the right to defend himself (or the lawyer for the accused) in order to avoid punishment or at least the punishment as best as possible to keep it low.

The accused therefore has rights in criminal proceedings and, in particular, the right to fair and lawful treatment. But: having the rights and using them effectively are quite different things. You should be aware of this in advance if you find out that a criminal investigation is pending against you. The summons to be questioned as a suspect, sometimes also the request to comment in writing on an allegation, is usually the first information that you receive about a proceeding against you.

The idea of ​​going to the police and informing them with a well-prepared description that there is nothing in the charge against you can be rash and deceptive. When the police invites you to question you, they have usually already used the other options available to clarify the facts relating to the suspicion of having committed a criminal offense against you. The suspicion has not dissipated, on the contrary, it may have been confirmed. Otherwise the public prosecutor would have closed the proceedings without your hearing or interrogation due to a lack of suspicion and you would never have found out about it. At the latest before the investigation is concluded, the accused must be informed and given the opportunity to comment and defend himself.

Therefore, if you are summoned, the matter should be taken seriously. There is evidence that is perhaps already watertight, so that you are only harming yourself with a denial or a fairy tale to alleviate your alleged exoneration because you are forgetting the possibility of mitigation. Perhaps the evidence is not enough and the investigators promise from your interrogation that they can close the gap with a confession. Perhaps the results of the investigation so far also contain exonerating elements and, conversely, the officials want to give you the chance to complete the exonerating evidence.

You will not know any of this when you receive the summons and keep the appointment. The officers who will question you are trained and experienced in conducting questioning. Their job is to solve crimes. They also master the tactics and tricks of cracking protective claims, softening blockages, confusing those affected by surprising accusations and entangling them in contradictions, and ultimately obtaining confessions in a variety of other ways. The interrogators know the results of the investigation so far in detail, they are prepared for your interrogation.

You, on the other hand, absolutely do not know what the police already know and prove, or what they can use to get you into trouble. In this situation, as a rule, all the advantages lie with the police. You have to expect surprises with every question, to which you can only react spontaneously during the interrogation, without the possibility of being able to check before the answer that you are not getting into the mess yourself. The interrogation situation can be aptly compared with the fact that you should fill out the questionnaire for the theoretical driving test test after many years and without preparation: some experienced drivers spontaneously dare to do this and only notice afterwards that the questionnaire contained many a trap he stumbled into it unsuspectingly. For the accused in criminal proceedings, the

Tip 3:
Speech is silver, silence is gold! At least as long as you don't know reliably what's in the bush!

Of course there are many constellations in which it makes sense for the accused to speak, to face an interrogation and to provide information, be it to exonerate himself or, conversely, to mitigate a punishment that cannot be averted.

But it is your right and Strongly recommend that you use the

  • Determine the time for this yourself and
  • that you Make sure beforehand how the situation is and what risks and opportunities there are for you: what exactly and in detail you are being accused of, what evidence speaks against you, where the gaps in the evidence are, how you can exonerate yourself.

Therefore there is only one reliable way:

Tip 4:
Go to a criminal defense attorney or specialist criminal law attorney and let them inspect the investigation files. To keep things tidy, call the police. Let them know that you will not come and that you will hire a lawyer to represent you who will be in touch for you.

This will give you time and the opportunity to calmly examine the allegations and provide expert advice to develop a sensible line of defense.

A mere call to the police asking what it is about and what is against you will not provide reliable information. The police have already indicated that they want to see and interrogate you on suspicion of a criminal offense. She has no motive to enable you to prepare for the interrogation by providing open information that could jeopardize the aim of complete clarification and preparation for the bringing of charges.

On the other hand, you can reliably find out from the files what it is about, what is against you and what the police already know and what not. The right to inspect the investigation files is only enshrined in law for the defendant's defense counsel. You therefore need a lawyer to find out about the status of the investigation and, on this basis, to develop the strategy for the best possible defense.

Criminal law is extremely complicated. A layperson therefore seldom overlooks the specific risks of being convicted, the chances of avoiding the punishment and the means by which this is possible.

The accused may remain silent at any stage of the criminal proceedings, including in front of the public prosecutor or the judge. Whether or not to remain silent on the accusation turns out to be gold even after knowing the results of the investigation, or whether to talk (and what) makes more sense, can only be reliably determined by an experienced criminal defense attorney and only after evaluating the public prosecutor's files.

Tip 5:
Decide whether to remain silent only after evaluating the investigation files.

You should therefore not hesitate to deal with the proceedings against you only with the help of a criminal defense lawyer: at the latest when a subpoena shows that things are getting serious and you cannot hope that the proceedings will settle by themselves. It is mostly about not inconsiderable punishments, which are in the room, and about the possibility of averting them or mitigating them as best as possible.

If you ultimately decide to face the questioning requested by the police or the public prosecutor's office, you can request that the defense attorney be present at the questioning and ensure that everything goes smoothly.

Of course, the defense attorney costs money (you can find more information on the defense attorney's fees here). A sober analysis of risks, opportunities and costs usually leads to very clear results. You can ask your lawyer at the first contact what it costs to use. If you wish, he will also tell you what it will cost if he initially only inspects the files, evaluates them and then advises you on the evidence and the risk of punishment, as well as what a subsequent active defense will cost until the end of the proceedings. Then, after the first section, you can decide whether you need further assistance from the lawyer and whether you want to pay the costs or whether you have the confidence to defend yourself.


What to do if?

Tips from legal practice on how you can cope with problems with legal relevance without going to the lawyer immediately.

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