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In law, written notification that one is required to appear in court. In civil (noncriminal) cases, it notifies a defendant that he or she must appear and defend (e.g., by filing an answer) within a specified time or a default judgment will be rendered for the plaintiff. The summons is also used in cases involving minor criminal offenses (e.g., traffic violations) to call defendants to appear and answer to charges against them. See alsosubpoena.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on summons, visit Britannica.com.