Most Important Steps to Responding to a Summons and Complaint

responding to a summons

In 2018, US district courts saw 5% fewer civil cases than the previous year. At the same time, criminal case filings rose 8%. This is why it’s more important than ever to know about responding to a summons.

A summons is a legal document issued by a court. Courts send out summons to people who are required to appear in court for some legal dispute. When called a summons and complaint, the complaint part is the specific criminal act being filed. 

If you’ve received a summons or a summons and complaint, you may be wondering: how do I reply to a court summons? And what happens if you ignore a summons? We get these questions a lot, which is why we created this guide. 

Are you stressed about responding to your summons? Then take a deep breath and keep reading, because this one’s for you.

How to Read a Court Summons Letter

When you receive a summons and complaint, the first thing you’ll need to do is sign that you’ve received it. Summons’ are usually delivered in-person.

Once you open the document, you’ll see the name of the court that issued it. It should also specify what type of court issued it (i.e., juvenile, criminal, civil, etc.).

Next, the summons should name the party the summons is intended for. In criminal cases, that should be you. If your business is receiving the summons, it might name you or the person at your company you listed as the registered agent with the state.

The summons will then detail your case number and the plaintiff or defendant who filed the case against you. Next, your summons should explain why you’re receiving the summon. In other words, it explains what the case is about.

A final thing to look for on your summons is the type of remediation the plaintiff is seeking. This will detail whether the plaintiff is seeking monetary remediation or otherwise. 

The most important information is a summons is when and how you must respond to the summons. It should list a court date and whether you need to appear.

What to Do If You Receive a Complaint Summons

Summons and complaint documents are legally enforceable. That means you must respond to the summons on the day and in the manner in which it’s laid out in the document. 

Keep in mind that you could receive a summons and complaint weeks or even months after a crime. Some crimes are easy to handle immediately (DUI or DWI, domestic violence, etc.). Others need further investigation before officers can make charges.

One other thing: there is a possibility of missing out on your summons. If your address is incorrect with the Department of Licensing, the court could send it to the wrong address. Even if this is the case, you still must appear in court.

Responding to a Summons

A summons usually requires you to respond in one of two ways. The first is a physical appearance in court, which is more common in criminal cases. Civil case summons may require you to file an answer by a certain date. 

Regarding the latter, your answer is your response to the alleged complaint. In writing, you tell the court whether you agree or disagree with the charges filed against you. Alternatively, you may state you have no knowledge of the events detailed in the charge.

Replying to a summons in writing requires you to sign and date your reply. You should keep a copy for yourself before mailing the original to the plaintiff (or the plaintiff’s attorney) stated in the summons.

You must also file your answer with the court. This means you should take a copy of your reply to the clerk at the court named in your summons. The clerk should date it to provide proof that you filed your response in a timely manner. 

Make sure you bring a Certificate of Service to the court on the same day you file your answer. A Certificate of Service is a signed and dated legal form verifying that you mailed your answer to the plaintiff (or the plaintiff’s attorney). 

Once you’ve filed your response, it’s a waiting game. The court will present your answer to the judge and the plaintiff (or the plaintiff’s attorney). Depending on your answer, the court and the plaintiff will decide the next legal actions.  

The Consequences of Not Responding to a Court Summons

If you fail to respond to a summons within the required timeline, you have broken the law. Even if your summons was mailed to the wrong address, you must respond by the date detailed on the summons.

If you don’t file in a timely manner, the court might do one of two things. First, it might decide the case the plaintiff’s favor (called a default judgment) that you cannot legally contest. Second, the court might put out a warrant for your arrest.

There are some rare cases where you can file your answer beyond the time limit stated in the summons. However, you must ask permission from the judge presiding over the summoning court to extend your deadline.

To get permission from the judge, you have to make a legal movement to file a motion to submit your response late. Don’t know how to do that? That’s where a criminal defense lawyer comes in. 

Hire a Baton Rouge Area Criminal Defense Lawyer for Your Court Case

Responding to a summons is required any time you receive a summons and complaint. If you fail to reply in a timely manner, your case may be decided against you with no option to appeal. Or the court may put out a warrant for your arrest.

Can’t afford to deal with the fall out of failing to answer your summons? Call Carl Barkemeyer, Baton Rouge area criminal defense lawyer, today to make sure these negative consequences don’t happen to you.