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What is a Motion to Quash?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A motion to quash is a request to a court to render a previous decision of that court or a lower judicial body null or invalid. Such a motion isn’t always motivated by legal interests in vigorous pursuit of a case, but can arise out of mistakes made by any lawyer in a court proceeding. It may also be a lawyer’s decision to file this type of motion if a mistake has been on the part of a court, or if an attorney believes that the issuance of some court document like a subpoena was not done in a legal manner.

On the subject of issuing a subpoena, it’s easy to see some of the different motivations for filing a motion to quash. Sometimes a court or a lawyer accidentally asks for some person unrelated to a case to appear in court. For example, the court could subpoena someone with an identical name, i.e., John Smith, to appear in court by accident. Alternately, it may be arguable that the subpoena of the correct person was not produced in a legal way. In these cases, an attorney could file a motion to quash.

This motion might necessitate asking a different court to determine legality of an action. If a lawyer feels a lower court or administrative body did not act in full accord with the law, he might seek a judgment on this action from a higher judicial office. This often is accomplished by making a request to a court called a certiorari where it is claimed that a lower judicial body did not fully follow the law when making a certain decision. If the higher judicial office reviews the facts and determines this was the case, they essentially act as a motion to quash would. The office eliminates or makes null any decision or order of the lower deciding body, basically rendering those decisions at question completely meaningless.

When people don’t want to respond to a subpoena, they might have a lawyer file a motion to quash or approach a higher court with an argument that the original issuer of the subpoena in some way acted illegally, and that lawyer could request a writ of certiorari or review of a decision. This can sometimes be effective, but only if an attorney is able to prove some violation of law when the subpoena was issued.

There are good reasons why this motion can be successful, especially if it applies to things in evidence instead of people. Summoning certain documents that would in some way violate privacy or copyright laws may be illegal. Most attorneys would seek a motion to quash or seek to overturn demand for such documents with a writ of certiorari if a court had overstepped and would be violating rules about privacy or trade secrets by viewing such requested documents.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon180436 — On May 26, 2011

I once was subpoenaed through my job and the attorney working for my employer filed a motion to quash and I was dismissed as a witness only because I had no first hand knowledge of the facts of the case and the only things I knew were hearsay told to me by the defendant.

By andromeda — On May 12, 2011

@Andras - some additional reasons for a 'motion to quash' a subpoena include requests for student records, medical records, personnel files, confidential research, and other protected materials. I agree with the article that this is is something you might want your lawyer to do.

@miriam98- I didn't realize how common this was on a smaller scale either.

By Andras — On May 10, 2011

Wow, I would hope the court system would have more to go on than a name when issuing a subpoena! I guess if you lived in a large city and had a fairly common name, this could happen. What are some other reasons for a motion to quash a subpoena?

By miriam98 — On May 10, 2011

I consider myself a news junkie. While I had never heard the term “motion to quash” until now, I’m quite familiar with the term “overturned.”

It’s become quite common to hear of higher courts overturning the rulings of lower courts. They don’t do this on their own of course—they have to be petitioned. Of course, this can happen over and over until in some cases a major ruling reaches the Supreme Court, which makes the final ruling.

I guess until now I didn’t realize this kind of thing happens on a much smaller scale quite often in civil courses, for less weightier matters.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia...
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