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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.