Discovery Process: How It Can Help Your Criminal Charge Case

Posted on: 13 April 2015


When you are charged with a crime, you have a right to certain types of information that the prosecution is gathering for their case at trial. Taking full advantage of this can help you build a more effective defense, whether you are a pro se defendant or have an attorney.

Discovery and Inculpatory Information

The prosecutor has an obligation to turn over evidence (called "discovery") of your guilt called inculpatory evidence) to your defense shortly before the case begins. It may even encourage you to accept a plea bargain instead of going to trial, but it will also give you an opportunity to examine the evidence and prepare to knock holes in their case.

While you may be entitled to evidence, you aren't entitled to  the prosecutor's "attorney work products," which are notes on their strategies. For instance, you could view a video purporting to incriminate you, but you aren't entitled to receive a copy of the list of specific time points that the prosecutor intends to emphasize at trial.

Things you would be entitled to:

  • A list of prosecution witnesses (names and addresses) that will appear at trial
  • Written summaries of oral witness statements taken by police
  • A list of physical evidence
  • Test results such as blood alcohol content/level (BAC or BAL)
  • The police report
  • Photos and videos
  • Experts' statements regarding evidence

When it comes to witnesses, you are entitled to know about their past criminal convictions which could be used to attack their credibility, and if they have current charges pending, you have the right to know if they have received any offers of leniency for promised testimony.

Exculpatory Information

According to Brady vs. Maryland (also called the "Brady Rule"), a prosecutor is legally bound to hand over expulpatory evidence. This is information/evidence that the police or prosecutor has discovered that argues against your guilt, and may help to prove your innocence. You shouldn't have to specifically request this information because you may not even be aware that it exists.

The prosecutor does not have a obligation to find evidence to prove you innocent. However, if in the course of their investigation they turn up evidence that is strong enough to affect the outcome of the trial in your behalf, they should be willing to turn it over. You would hope that if it exonerates you completely, they would dismiss the charges. Of course, sometimes people can be so focused on a belief that you are guilty, they may be blind to evidence of what actually happened that discredits their theories.

Sometimes it takes a really determined defense lawyer working in your behalf to turn up information like this. An experienced attorney would have a better idea for what to look for and what kind of information to request.

If it comes to light that a prosecutor did fail to turn over valid exculpatory evidence, then certain inculpatory (damaging) evidence may be thrown out at trial due to this oversight, or this omission could become the basis for an appeal.

To Recap

You can expect a chance to examine inculpatory and exculpatory evidence that the prosecution has gathered but you are not privy to their work products. If you are charged with a serious crime, you would definitely benefit by hiring an experienced criminal defense team like Spaulding & Kitzler, LLC to defend you, or to serve as a legal coach during your defense preparation.