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A summons is a form prepared by the plaintiff and issued by a court that informs the defendant that they are being sued or are required to appear in court. It may be served by a sheriff or other authorized person, such as the process server

In the context of civil cases, this case from Nebraska, explains that “a summons is an instrument used to provide notice to a party of civil proceedings and of the opportunity to appear and be heard.” A summons informs the defendant that they have a certain number of days to respond to the lawsuit or appear in the court.

In the context of criminal cases, a summons can be served on a defendant facing minor criminal charges and used as an alternative to an arrest warrant. This case from Missouri, explains that “a ‘summons’ is more or less a notice or an invitation to a defendant to come to court at a certain time and answer to a certain charge so that he may not be subjected to inconvenience and embarrassment of an arrest.”

[Last updated in August of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team