Discovery — A Mandatory And Valuable Pre-Trial Process For Every Defendant

When you are charged with a crime, you are guaranteed the protection of your rights under the Constitution. One key way that your rights are protected is through the discovery process. What is discovery in a criminal case? What does it — and does it not — include? And how does it help you? Here's what every defendant needs to know.

What Is Criminal Discovery?

The name can be a bit of a misnomer, as pre-trial discovery is actually an exchange of evidence between the defendant and the prosecutors. Each side is allowed to request specific and potentially relevant evidence in the possession of the other side. Discovery generally includes requests for admission of specific facts, production of or access to evidence, witness depositions and statements, and interrogatory questions answered under oath. 

Why Is Discovery Important?

The state and federal governments have more resources than the average American charged with a crime. They also hold the vast majority of the evidence used to convict a person. Therefore, the only way to ensure a fair trial — which is your Constitutional right — is by letting the defendant gain access to what they need to mount a viable defense.

Discovery also permits the defendant to build the best case possible. This is key to the presumption that you are innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof must be on the prosecution. 

What Is and Isn't Included? 

It's important to note that discovery does not require that either side reveal 100% of their case. The exchange is of objective evidence which each side may evaluate and use in their own case. It doesn't include the notes, strategies, and conclusions that the other side will use when presenting that evidence. Essentially, you get access to the gun and related lab reports but not what the prosecution will focus on regarding that evidence. 

Another important part of discovery is a one-sided requirement. The prosecution is legally bound to turn over what is known as exculpatory evidence — meaning evidence that tends to prove the defendant innocent. If the prosecutors' investigation team unearths a potential alibi during discovery, they are required to inform the defendant's legal representative. Again, this goes toward your right to a fair proceeding. 

Where Can You Learn More?

Discovery is vital to your defense, but it's unfamiliar to most people. Protect yourself by learning more about it in a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in your state today.  For more information, contact a criminal attorney near you.