grand jury subpoena

Grand Jury Subpoena: What Is It & What to Do When You Receive One

A grand jury subpoena is different from other subpoenas because it is from a grand jury, which is a group of citizens tasked with investigating potential crimes. A grand jury can issue a subpoena to obtain testimony or evidence that assists with the investigation. 

However, a grand jury serves its subpoena in secret. Because a prosecutor in a criminal investigation presents the grand jury subpoena, you cannot refuse to comply if you receive one. Below, we take a look at what you should know about these subpoenas and what to do if you receive one. 

Why Did I Receive a Grand Jury Subpoena?

If you receive a federal grand jury subpoena, it means that you or someone you know is the target of a federal investigation by the Department of Justice. In order for the government to indict someone for a capital or infamous crime, the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution requires the use of a grand jury. 

In practice, all federal felonies require a grand jury unless the defendant chooses to waive that right and plead to an “Information.” 

Witness, Subject, or Target

A target is the person who is the target of the investigation. This means that the prosecution has evidence linking them to a crime. Alternatively, they might be a putative defendant. 

If an organization is the target, it does not mean that employees or officers are also targets automatically. The inverse is true, meaning that if the target is an employee of an organization, the organization itself might not be a target. 

A subject of an investigation is anyone whose conduct falls within the scope of the investigation. A subject falls somewhere between a target and a witness, meaning there is not enough evidence to link them to the crime. 

A witness is a person who may have information relevant to the investigation that helps to prove the innocence or guilt of another individual. That means the criminal exposure is low and the prosecutor does not believe they did anything wrong. 


Regardless of status, the end result of the investigation is to indict a defendant or defendants. Above all, the grand jury’s job is to evaluate evidence and decide who to charge with a felony. Since this is the end goal of the process, it’s important to understand the risk of a grand jury subpoena. 

Can I Challenge a Grand Jury Subpoena? 

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to know whether you received a subpoena because you may have information or because you are the target. Moreover, it’s a challenge to get information from the prosecutor’s office. 

If you receive a subpoena, it’s a good idea to work with a criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can work with the prosecutor’s office to learn more about the investigation. 

Generally, non-compliance with a grand jury subpoena can result in charges of contempt of court. However, there are grounds to dispute the subpoena in certain situations. 

  • The subpoena was not served properly. 
  • The requested information infringes on your Fifth Amendment rights. 
  • Compliance may cause undue burden or unjustified embarrassment. 
  • The documents sought are privileged information or not relevant to the case. 

In order to challenge the subpoena, you can file a motion to quash it or object to the documents requested. 

challenge a grand jury subpoena

Work With an Experienced Federal Criminal Lawyer

Every year, thousands of federal subpoenas flow through the Department of Justice to targets of grand jury investigations. While it sounds scary to receive one, you should understand that effective defense work can mitigate how intrusive it is to your life. The legal team at Universal Law Group knows how to handle these subpoenas well.

If you or someone you know receives a grand jury subpoena, it’s normal to have questions. At Universal Law Group, our defense attorneys are here to help. Schedule a consultation with our team today to learn more about your case.