In Illinois a summons is the official way a court notifies you that a case has been started against you.

Summons In Civil Court

In civil court there are specific rules that must be followed to ensure that a summons and accompanying documents are served properly.

See 735 ILCS 5/2-201(a):

“Every action, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, shall be commenced by the filing of a complaint. The clerk shall issue summons upon request of the plaintiff. The form and substance of the summons, and of all other process, and the issuance of alias process, and the service of copies of pleadings shall be according to rules.”

Summons In Criminal Court

In criminal court a summons is used very much like it is used in civil court. When a person is charged with a crime a court issues a warrant for the person’s arrest.

However, for traffic offenses and some low level felonies a court may choose to not issue a warrant and instead issue a summons for the person to appear in court.

See 725 ILCS 5/107-11. When summons may be issued.

(a) When authorized to issue a warrant of arrest, a court may instead issue a summons.

(b) The summons shall:

(1) Be in writing
(2) State the name of the person summoned and his other address, if known;
(3) Set forth the nature of the offense;
(4) State the date when issued and the municipality or county where issued;
(5) Be signed by the judge of the court with the title of his or her office; and
(6) Command the person to appear before a court at a certain time and place.

(c) The summons may be served in the same manner as the summons in a civil action, except that police officers may serve summons for violations of ordinances occurring within their municipalities.

725 ILCS 5/107-11.

The consequences of not responding to a summons depends on the charge against you. In some traffic and municipal ordinance violation cases a judgment may be issued against you and you can get fined.

In a more serious criminal charge you can expect a warrant for your arrest to be issued.

Notice To Appear In Criminal Court

In Illinois a law enforcement officer also has the option of issuing you a notice to appear in court. This is more common and typical for a traffic infraction.

See 725 ILCS 5/107-12. Notice to appear.

(a) Whenever a peace officer is authorized to arrest a person without a warrant he may instead issue to such person a notice to appear.

(b) The notice shall:

(1) Be in writing;
(2) State the name of the person and his address, if known;
(3) Set forth the nature of the offense;
(4) Be signed by the officer issuing the notice; and
(5) Request the person to appear before a court at a certain time and place.

(c) Upon failure of the person to appear a summons or warrant of arrest may issue.

(d) In any case in which a person is arrested for a Class C misdemeanor or a petty offense and remanded to the sheriff other than pursuant to a court order, the sheriff may issue such person a notice to appear.

725 ILCS 5/107-12.

The notice to appear has the same legal effect as a summons. It notifies a person that a charge or complaint has been started against you.

The Difference Between A Summons And A Notice To Appear

Both a summons and a notice to appear notify you that a charge or complaint has been filed against you. Both command you to appear in court to answer the case. The difference between a summons and a notice to appear is that a summons is issued by a court. A notice to appear is issued by a police officer.

Both have the same legal effect.

Subpoena vs Summons

What is the difference between a summons and a subpoena?

In Illinois there are the similarities and key differences between a summons and a subpoena.

Both a summons and a subpoena are issued by a court and must be personally served on a person to take effect. Both consist of a court order that a person appear in court. The difference is that for a subpoena the person subpoenaed is not charged or in trouble. However, a summons means you have to appear in court because a charge or complaint has been issued personally against you.

To learn more about what a subpoena in Illinois means go here.