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7 Criminal Law Discovery Rules and Procedures Explained in 2024

Discovery in criminal law is the process through which both the prosecution and defense exchange information and evidence related to the case before the trial. The purpose of discovery in a criminal case is to ensure a fair trial by allowing each party to be aware of the evidence that the other party intends to present.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

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What is Discovery?

Discovery is a component of the criminal justice system which is intended to ensure transparency and fairness in the legal process. It allows both parties to prepare their cases and reduces the likelihood of surprises during the trial phase. The specific rules and procedures governing the discovery process can be found in criminal procedure laws and rules of court in each jurisdiction.

What is Criminal Law?

Also known as penal law, criminal law is a branch of law that defines offenses and prescribes punishments for offenses against the public or the state. Criminal law encompasses a system of laws and legal procedures that involve conduct that is considered harmful, threatening, or otherwise disruptive to society. Criminal law is different from civil law, which deals with disputes between private parties.

Also Read: Statute of Limitations on Discovery Rule in California

Criminal Law Discovery Rules and Procedures

Discovery rules in criminal law and procedures vary by jurisdiction, but its general concepts include:

  1. Mutual Disclosure: Both the prosecution and defense must share certain information with the other party, including evidence, witnesses, and other relevant materials that they plan to use in the case.

2. Types of Discovery: Discovery may include various information, including:

  • Witness Statements: Statements made by witnesses to law enforcement officials or other parties.
  • Police Reports: Reports filed by law enforcement pertaining to the investigation.
  • Expert Witness Information: Information about any expert witnesses that either the defense or prosecution plans to call.
  • Physical Evidence: Access to physical evidence (i.e. documents, photographs, objects).
  • Defendant's Statements: Statements made by the defendant to law enforcement officials or others.

3. Timing of Discovery: The timing for discovery typically occurs during the pre-trial phase. Both parties have an obligation to share pertinent information in a timely manner.

4. Reciprocal Obligations: The principle of reciprocity applies, meaning that if one party shares certain information, the other party is typically required to reciprocate with the same information.

5. Depositions: In certain instances, the defense may have the opportunity to depose key witnesses, including law enforcement officials and other people who are involved in the case. Depositions involve sworn testimony outside of court.

6. Protective Orders: Protective orders may be requested to limit or restrict the disclosure of confidential information to protect the safety of witnesses or maintain the integrity of the investigation.

7. Brady Material: Prosecutors are obligated to disclose exculpatory evidence (favorable to the defendant) that they are aware of. This obligation arises from the landmark Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland.

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