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How does the discovery process affect a criminal case?

| Mar 6, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

In the movies and television shows, it’s common to see courtroom dramas turn on the testimony of a surprise witness. Maybe it’s an eyewitness who can place the defendant at the scene of the crime. Maybe it’s a forensic accountant who can trace the stolen cryptocurrency. But either way, this isn’t how things happen in real life.

In real life, if you’re facing criminal charges, you don’t want surprise evidence thrown against you in the courtroom. It’s hard to defend yourself against something made up or brought in at the last minute. And thanks to the discovery process, you shouldn’t have to worry about this surprise evidence.

The discovery process helps people find justice

The discovery process is a key part of your defense, and it starts well before the jury hears a word from anyone. During discovery, both sides of a case share information about the evidence they plan to submit, including:

  • Lists of witnesses and the topics they may address
  • Documents related to the case
  • Physical evidence such as video and audio recordings
  • The results of medical or mental health exams

The goal is to prevent either side from being “ambushed” by evidence in the middle of a trial. Such ambushes may be dramatic, but they rarely help people find real justice.

Limits on the discovery process

While both sides must share their evidence, they don’t need to share their arguments. As you may expect, two people may look at the same one piece of evidence and weave two very different stories. The other side is not obligated to share its story. Nor is your attorney obligated to share your strategy.

Exculpatory evidence

One of the more important facts about criminal discovery is that the law demands prosecutors share any exculpatory evidence. This is evidence that might prove the defendant’s innocence. For example, if the prosecution wants to accuse someone of committing a crime but has video footage of that person in another city at the time, they need to share it.

Gaming the discovery process

Naturally, since both sides want to win, they are often tempted to share as little as they can. Or to bury the important information in piles of extra, useless information. This means that people accused of crimes want to work with attorneys who dive head-first into the discovery process.

Attorneys who take a proactive approach to the discovery process are better able to find and process the important information. Attorneys who take a more relaxed approach might find themselves buried under thousands of pages of useless info one or two days before the trial begins.

The discovery process is hard work

The discovery process can be hard work, but at Kammen & Moudy, we’re fully aware of just how important it is. That’s why our attorneys take it seriously and give it their full attention. We want to find all the details that matter.