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What is the difference between letters rogatory and a subpoena?

On Behalf of | Mar 15, 2024 | Out-of-state Discovery - Letters Rogatory |

Letters rogatory and subpoenas are legal tools used in the process of law. However, they serve different purposes, and legal professionals use them in different contexts.

Understanding the difference can help people choose an efficient and effective communication method between jurisdictions and parties involved in legal proceedings.

Letters rogatory

Letters rogatory are formal requests from a Massachusetts court to another state’s court for judicial assistance. Courts often use these requests to obtain evidence or serve legal notices abroad.

The execution of letters rogatory falls under the rules of comity. Comity refers to the mutual respect between courts of different jurisdictions. It is the informal and voluntary recognition of another jurisdiction’s laws and judicial decisions.

Courts typically transmit letters rogatory through diplomatic channels, which can be lengthy. Executing this process in another country may take a year or more worldwide. In contrast, domestic legal procedures take less time.

Courts use these formal submissions to take evidence and secure the enforceability of the discovery in other states and countries. This process is complex.


A subpoena is a document that orders a person to appear in court or produce documents or other evidence. A court issues it within its jurisdiction to compel the presence of a witness for testimony.

Courts can enforce penalties for non-compliance with subpoenas within their own jurisdiction. When a subpoena crosses an international boundary, it becomes a mere request.

Legal professionals use both of these methods to obtain evidence in their cases. The main differences between them are their scope and enforceability.