What is Discovery in a Criminal Case?
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, including the right to a speedy and fair trial, an impartial jury, an attorney, the right to know who your accusers are, and the right to know what charges you face and what evidence exists against you. Although everyone is entitled to a trial, the fact is that trials exhaust considerable resources, especially time. The vast majority of criminal cases resolve in a settlement in which a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for a less serious charge or reduced sentence. These plea bargains are partially made possible by the discovery process.
Why do criminal defendants accept plea deals?
Usually, defendants who realize they have a fair chance of losing at trial agree to plead guilty or no contest to their charge or a related charge. Plea deals may benefit defendants and save the court time and money. They’re usually a win-win for both parties. In a plea bargain, the defendant tends to receive a lesser charge and/or a lesser sentence. Plea bargains allow cases to be resolved more quickly than at trial and reduce the risk for both parties.
Defendants who plead guilty or no contest and are already in custody might get out of jail soon after the judge accepts their plea. Depending on the offense, the defendant may get out of jail entirely or may go on probation. Ultimately, pleading guilty to an offense may result in having fewer and/or less serious charges on a defendant’s criminal record. Pleading to a charge helps both parties resolve the matter quickly.
How does discovery work in a criminal case?
A defendant won’t know how strong or weak his case is until their lawyer completes discovery. Discovery is the process by which one party gathers information about the other party’s case. In a criminal case, discovery is when defendants learn about the prosecution’s case against them. Their lawyers may request evidence from the prosecution that supports the defendants’ guilt and examine any evidence the prosecution intends to introduce at trial.
Discovery begins well before trial, but sometimes, it can overlap with the trial as more evidence comes to the surface. Types of evidence that prosecutors must share with defense attorneys include:
- Crime scene and other forensic evidence
- Testimony from witnesses, law enforcement officers, and the defendant
- The names and addresses of all intended witnesses
- Police reports, written or oral testimony from witnesses, booking reports, toxicology results, and DNA evidence from the defendant
- Expert witness testimony
- Raw evidence or evidence that’s based on what’s been reported to a witness
- Exculpatory evidence
Why must the defense and prosecution engage in discovery?
Discovery before a trial promotes case settlements and enhances the fairness of trials. In the past, defendants were left in the dark about the evidence that existed against them and couldn’t force prosecutors to give them witness statements or even reveal the names of the witnesses they had. Defense lawyers who know what to expect at trial will do a better job protecting their clients. Today, every jurisdiction has rules requiring prosecutors to share information with the defense before trial.
During discovery, a defendant may receive all potential evidence that could hurt his or her case, but not information regarding how the prosecution intends to use that evidence at trial. The defendant is not entitled to know the prosecution’s overall strategy. Exculpatory evidence must also be disclosed. This is evidence that may help establish a defendant’s innocence. Exculpatory evidence may include anything that could cause a reasonable juror to doubt the defendant’s guilt.
Make the Most of Discovery with The Umansky Law Firm
Whether you face a misdemeanor or felony charge in the Orlando area, you deserve sound representation. Facing a criminal charge is a serious matter that could affect your life for years to come. When searching for the right criminal defense attorney for your case, make sure you select someone with extensive experience representing defendants at trial. It’s crucial that your lawyer has as much familiarity as possible with the discovery process.
At The Umansky Law Firm, our team of defense lawyers in Orlando has more than 100 years of combined experience gathering evidence to protect our clients. Our lawyers know how to interpret evidence and investigate all the facts of your case to make a strong counter-argument in court. We will review all the facts of your case closely and advise you on whether it’s sensible to enter a plea or seek a trial. When you have questions about your case, you can call our lawyers at any time of day or night. Call our office for your free consultation or complete our contact form.