Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Citation Definition:

An order of a court to either do a certain thing or to appear before it to answer charges.

Related Terms: Summons, Subpoena, Writ

Often used synonymous with writ, summons, notice or even subpoena, and is simply the term preferred in some jurisdictions in certain regards to identify the formal document delivered to a person to take a certain step or to advise as to pending and proposed legal action in a court of law.

It gives formal notice to a person of proposed court hearing or action and may in the result, give a court jurisdiction over a defendant.

The citation is typically used for lesser offenses (such as traffic violations) because it relies on the good faith of the defendant to appear as requested, as opposed to an arrest or bail.

The penalty for failing to obey a citation issued in a criminal matter is often a warrant for the arrest of the defendant.

In civil actions, citation is mostly used in probate actions although sometimes, it is used in general civil cases.


Canada's Supreme Court, under the penmanship of Chief Justice Antonio Lamer, adopted these words in R. v. K.:

"Citation is defined as a writ issued out of a court of competent jurisdiction, commanding a person therein named to appear on a day named and do something therein mentioned, or show cause why he should not; while cite is defined as to summon; to command the presence of a person; to notify a person of legal proceedings against him and require his appearance thereto.

"In a number of Canadian jurisdictions, judges issue a citation or cite for contempt prior to holding a hearing for notification purposes. This is also consistent with the American approach ...."

In Sacks v Superior Court, Justice Moore of the California Court of Appeals used these words in a adult guardianship case:

"The citation is a writ commonly used in probate courts for the purpose of commanding the citee to appear at a specified time and to do the act named or show cause why he should not do so. As such process it is analogous to the summons at law. "

In Brunswick v. Inland Wetlands Commission, Justice O'Connell of the Appellate Court of Connecticut wrote:

"In appeals from administrative agencies (in Connecticut), the writ is designated as a citation but serves the same function. The citation, like the writ, is a direction to the officer to summon... The words writ and citation are synonymous."

In legal research, a citation is properly referred to as a legal citation, an alpha-numeric code that abbreviates a specific resource such as a law report, a law journal or decisions issues from a court.


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