Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Summons Definition:

In the USA, this is one of the initial documents issued in a civil suit; giving the defendant notice of the claim and an opportunity to defend it.

Related Terms: Subpoena, Citation, Writ

In the USA, this is one of the initial documents issued in a civil suit; giving the defendant notice of the claim and an opportunity to defend it.

The summons also gives the court which issues it the authority to dispose of the matter.

In Canadian criminal law, this is the document used by the police to compel an accused to attend court to answer the charges.

It does not involve the arrest of the accused and is used where the police, either by the relatively less serious nature of the crime or because of the standing of the accused in the community, do not believe that arrest is necessary to ensure the attendance of the accused at court.

In Townsend v US, Justice Miller of the United States Court of Appeal offered this insight:

"To support his contention appellant relies largely upon Bouvier's definition of summons. That definition which, in turn, is taken from Blackstone's Commentaries, speaks of a writ, issued to a sheriff or other officer, to notify a party to appear in court to answer a complaint made against him.

"It should not be necessary to point out that the word has a much wider meaning today. For example, the word attend, as well as the word appear, is sometimes used in the cases in defining summons.

"In some jurisdictions it is not a writ or process at all but merely a notice to the defendant that an action has been commenced and that judgment will be taken against him if he fails to answer the complaint.

"On the other hand, summons has been defined as synonymous with process and as synonymous with subpoena.

"In the instant case the word, as used in the pertinent statute, bears a much closer relation to the subpoena of the common law than to the summons of the common law. Moreover, the resolution in the present case authorizes the committee to require the attendance of such witnesses by subpoena as it deems necessary, and provides that 'Every person who having been summoned as a witness willfully makes default" shall be subject to penalties provided by law.'"

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