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Subpoenas, Court Orders and Search Warrants

Updated: 09/29/2011

What do I do if I receive a subpoena, court order or search warrant?

  • Notify the Office of General Counsel (OGC) immediately and provide them with a copy of the subpoena, court order or search warrant. (Contact Clifton Williams (University Records Officer),, PHONE 919-515-1526, FAX 515-3060.)   OGC will then provide guidance on the appropriate response to the issuing/serving attorney, court or law enforcement agency. In addition, do not attempt to comply without informing and seeking guidance from the Office of General Counsel.
  • Do not contact or discuss the subpoena, court order or search warrant with the issuing/serving party.  Let OGC do that for you if necessary.

* Important Note: OGC can only advise individuals with subpoenas, court orders and search warrants received concerning matters within an individual's scope of employment as an employee of the University. For any subpoenas, court orders or search warrants seeking information outside the scope of employment, University employees should seek private legal counsel. *

I. General Information About Subpoenas

II. General Information About Court Orders

II. General Information About Search Warrants


1. What is a “subpoena”?

Although typically filled out by an attorney, a subpoena is an official request issued from a court. A judge may find an individual in contempt of court for not complying with a subpoena. A subpoena is binding if:

a. the subpoenaed individual receives proper personal service;

b. there are no objections or reasonable excuses not to comply with the request; and

c. the subpoena is issued under authority of a court or agency with statutory authority to issue subpoenas to persons in North Carolina.

2. What can be requested in a subpoena?

A subpoena may require the individual to do any or all of the following:

a. Testify at a trial, hearing, or other judicial proceeding;

b. Produce records including papers, books, or other physical items, or stored electronic information including email, files, activity logs, and data; and

c. Appear at a deposition for questioning before trial and/or produce documents at the deposition.

3. What grounds are there to block a subpoena?

A person may object to a subpoena and ask that it be quashed by a judge. A "motion to quash" is a request that a judge nullify or cancel the subpoena. Typically OGC will negotiate with the attorney who issued the subpoena if it is unduly burdensome or otherwise objectionable. Important grounds for opposing a subpoena include:

a. Privileged or confidential information - If the request is for student records (see FERPA and other rules), medical records, personnel files , counselor-student communications, attorney-client communications, confidential research, or other protected materials, the subpoena may be quashed or may be subject to a protective order.

b. The subpoena is too vague - If the subpoena is so vague or global as to what records it requests, the recipient may object or negotiate for narrower terms with the attorney who sent it. (See Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 45(b)(1), Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 17(d); N.C.G.S. 1A-1, Rule 45 (e)).

c. Inadequate time to respond. This sometimes happens with requests for student records because the University must notify the student (or former student) first. A subpoena that does not allow a reasonable time for compliance may be objected to or a different response time may be negotiated.

d. Burdensome travel. If the subpoena forces the individual to travel too far, there are grounds for objection. (See Fed. Rule 45 (c)(3)(A)(ii)).

e. Where undue burdens or "adequate excuse" exist for non-compliance, the recipient may be able to object to or negotiate a change to the subpoena. (See N.C. 1A-1, Rule 45(c)(3)).


1. What is a “court order”?

A court order is a legal command issued by a court.  Court orders are sometimes referred to by other names such as magistrate’s order, arrest warrant, show cause order, order to appear, summons or clerk’s order.   A judge may find an individual in contempt of court for not complying with a court order.

2. What can be requested in a court order?

A judge may order any act or omission to advance or enforce the court’s lawful judgments.  Thus, almost any act or omission can be demanded in a court order.


1. What is a “search warrant”?

A search warrant is a type of court order and process directing a law enforcement officer to search designated premises, vehicles or persons for the purpose of seizing designated items and accounting for any items so obtained to the court which issued the warrant. (See N.C.G.S. 15A-241).

2. How is a search warrant used?

A search warrant is typically used to facilitate a law enforcement agency’s investigation of crime.

3. What items can be seized under a search warrant?

Items can be seized if there is probable cause to believe that  they:

a.  are stolen;

b.  are unlawfully possessed;

c.  are used, or possessed for the purpose of being used, to commit a crime; or

d.  are evidence of a crime or the identity of a person committing a crime. (See N.C.G.S. 15A-242).

4. Who may issue a search warrant?

Typically, judges issue search warrants.  Other judicial officials, such as magistrates or clerks of court, may issue search warrants in certain circumstances. (See N.C.G.S. 15A-243).