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What is a Court Summons?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 16, 2024
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A court summons is a type of legal document. It is typically used to inform a defendant of the beginning of a legal proceeding that requires his presence. It also lets the defendant know that the court has created a file for the case. This is intended not just to inform him, but also to allow him to respond to the case filing and prepare for court.

When a defendant receives a court summons, he usually finds several important pieces of information on it. He should find his name and address on it, as well as the name and address of the opposing party, referred to as the plaintiff. If there is more than one defendant in the case, the other defendants’ names are usually listed as well.

A court summons should include the name and address of the court in which the case is to be heard, as well as the case or file number created for the proceedings. It usually provides brief information about the case as well. If, for example, a furniture company is suing a client for default on a furniture loan, the court summons will typically include the amount for which the furniture store is suing. It will also inform the defendant of when he should show up in court or file a response in the case.

Though the exact language included in a court summons may vary, these documents typically advise the defendant to seek legal help in understanding and responding to the summons. Usually, a phone number is included, providing the defendant with a contact number for getting more information about the document. A summons may also include information about the consequences of failing to show up in court or failing to respond as directed. For example, failure to attend a court hearing could lead to a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. This means the plaintiff could win his case simply because the defendant didn’t show up or respond.

Sometimes a court summons is used in criminal cases and is referred to as a criminal summons. This document typically includes information about the crime of which the defendant is accused and an order directing him to appear in court. It will also detail where, when and at what time the defendant is to appear. A criminal summons may also list penalties for failure to appear as ordered. In some places, arrest warrants are issued for failure to appear in criminal court.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By anon978822 — On Nov 21, 2014

I got a summons that said it was for stealing, then went to court and they said that's not the main reason for the appearance, that it was leaving school without permission. My question is can a summons be filed for one thing and then be something else because you're already on probation?

By anon940581 — On Mar 19, 2014

I am having a case reopened and I saw that in the state notes it said "petition for summons." Now this is a criminal case, for a violation of probation, and now my question is do they have to summon me there first, and then if I don't show up that is when the warrant is issued?

By anon345728 — On Aug 21, 2013

I sold tobacco unlawfully in Delaware. I appear in court and the judge told me he will put me on PBJ for 30 days. After 30 days, my charge will be dismissed but my question is the summons which the agent gave me to appear in court. Will it appear on my criminal record or not?

By anon284380 — On Aug 09, 2012

What if they can't find me to summon me? And can they give the summons papers to anyone in my house, including visitors, if I am not home?

By Markus — On May 06, 2011

@markus - The plaintiff has to sign the summons before it can be served and it has to be notarized.

The court contacts you by mail anytime something new happens with the case.

By babylove — On May 03, 2011

Does the plaintiff get a copy of the summons? And how do they know if the defendant ever received it?

By anon64790 — On Feb 09, 2010

Thank you very much. I am completing my case Pro se, and it has been difficult to learn all the court language. Your presentation is simple, direct and educational.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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