Although not intended to be used as a broad discovery device, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(c) permits a party in a criminal case to issue a “17(c) subpoena” to order the production of documents in the possession of third parties.  The rule specifically provides that only the court may direct pre-trial production of materials compelled by a 17(c) subpoena—and only when the court is convinced that the subpoena is not issued as part of a “fishing expedition” for discovery. 

It is not uncommon, however, for parties to include language in 17(c) subpoenas that permit the recipient to comply through immediate pre-trial production–thereby circumventing the process of obtaining court approval for “early return.”  However, after a recent reprimand from the District Court for the District of Columbia, that practice may be coming to an end.Continue Reading Court Restricts Use of Rule 17(c) Subpoena for Gathering Pretrial Discovery