The Jan. 6 committee has subpoenaed nearly 100 witnesses. What does that mean?

A tool often wielded by the House Jan. 6 committee to gather evidence is the subpoena.

Since September 2021, the committee has subpoenaed nearly 100 people and organizations with knowledge of events that occurred on the day of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S Capitol. A number of those summons were sent to people who refused to willingly supply knowledge upon request.

The committee, which for the past year has been investigating the attack, will begin hearings Thursday and report on its findings in the fall. Evidence gathered by those witnesses subpoenaed will be their report.

What is a subpoena? What should people do when they receive one? Here's what we know.

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What is a subpoena?

Formally known as a subpoena to testify, a subpoena is a written order compelling the recipient to give testimony on a particular subject, according to Cornell Law School. Witnesses are usually asked to testify before a court, but a subpoena can also apply to other settings, like a congressional inquiry.

The Jan. 6 committee has subpoenaed various persons and organizations of interest for documents, facts and other evidence pertinent to its investigation.

What happens if someone does not comply with a subpoena?

A person who fails to comply with a subpoena can be held in contempt as someone who disobeyed a court order.

Contempt of court can be classified as direct or indirect, and criminal or civil, according to Cornell Law. An act of contempt committed knowingly is considered direct, while any action falling outside of this category is indirect.

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The Supreme Court has held that the difference between criminal and civil contempt depends on the substance of the proceeding. If the purpose of contempt is to coerce the witness to comply with court orders, then contempt is considered civil. If the proceedings are designed to punish someone held in contempt for disobedience, then contempt is considered criminal.

In 2021, the Jan. 6 committee voted to hold Mark Meadows, chief of staff to former President Donald Trump, and Trump aide Steve Bannon, in criminal contempt for defying their subpoenas. In April, the House voted to find Peter Navarro, Trump's former trade adviser, and Dan Scavino, the former deputy chief of staff, in criminal contempt for the same charge.

Each offender was referred to the Justice Department for criminal charges. So far, only Bannon and Navarro have been indicted on contempt charges by the DOJ.

Is it possible to get out of a subpoena?

Someone who believes a subpoena was not issued legally may file a motion to quash the demand. The subject of the subpoena can refuse to comply until the court has made a decision on that motion.

In February, a judge rejected a motion by the former president to quash a subpoena that he received along with his son, Donald Trump Jr., and daughter, Ivanka, to testify in a civil fraud investigation into the Trump Organization's real estate holdings. New York State Judge Arthur F. Engoron ruled that Trump and his family must testify in the investigation led by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

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Reach out to Chelsey Cox on Twitter at @therealco.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What does a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee mean?