In criminal trials in the state of New York, the People (a.k.a. the prosecution) bear the burden of proving that the defendant has committed the charged offense beyond any reasonable doubt. Obviously, the role of the criminal lawyer in New York is to controvert, challenge and poke holes in People’s case. Many times in criminal trials the strongest evidence of guilt in the prosecution’s arsenal is the direct testimony of a witness. Therefore the District Attorney’s Offices, whether it be one of the five borough/counties– Manhattan, Brooklyn/Kings, the Bronx, Staten Island/Richmond, or Queens– or surrounding counties– Westchester or Rockland — must be empowered to compel these “material witnesses” to testify. A subpoena is that legal tool, which empowers the State of New York to compel testimony by a witness. Of course, even if you’ve been subpoenaed to testify in a New York criminal trial, you don’t necessarily have to testify.
Most of us don’t need a NY criminal defense attorney to tell us what the Fifth Amendment is, but many times people do confuse the scope of the Amendment. The Fifth Amendment only protects individuals from self-incrimination. That is, if your boyfriend was charged with burglary and you are subpoenaed to testify as to his whereabouts on the night in question, but you had nothing to do with the burglary and your truthful testimony will in no way incriminate (admit guilt of a crime) you, then you can potentially be compelled to testify.