Latinismos: What is a subpoena?

Latin for Lawyers

A previous blog post examined the meaning of “summons” and the contexts in which it can be translated as either citación or emplazamiento. But what about the related Latin term “subpoena”? “Sub poena” is Latin for “under penalty” (bajo pena), and a subpoena is an order to appear in court in which failure to comply will incur some form of punishment. “Subpoena” (a secas) generally denotes a “subpoena ad testificandum,” an order compelling a witness to appear in court to testify, specifying the time and date on which to do so. After the 1997 Civil Procedure reform, in England and Wales a subpoena is now known as a “witness summons.” A second form of subpoena, a “subpoena duces tecum” (“duces tecum” = “bring with you”) orders a witness to appear in court with documents, records or other items of evidence of interest in an ongoing trial.

Any translation of subpoena must reflect the fact that there will be a penalty for failure to comply with the terms of that order. Thus possible Spanish renderings of subpoena include citación con apercibimiento, citación coercitiva and citación intimatoria.


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