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Navigating the Discovery Phase in a Case Trial


The criminal justice system can be complex. The criminal justice system comprises several distinct phases, each serving a crucial role in resolving criminal cases. The discovery phase is one of the vital phases in the criminal justice system. If you are facing criminal charges, you need to take time to understand this crucial aspect of the criminal justice process. Simply put, the discovery phase is vital for ensuring fair cases. The discovery phase allows each side to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent’s case. Read on to learn more about the discovery phase in a criminal trial.

What Is the Purpose of the Discovery Phase in a Criminal Case?

Discovery is the pretrial phase, where the prosecutor and defense attorney gather evidence and information from each other. The comprehensive exchange of evidence and information during the discovery phase helps avoid unwarranted surprises and enables effective cross-examination during trial. Discovery also allows for a more informed decision-making process. It helps the parties filter out unreliable or weak evidence before trial. It encourages parties to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the cases and can result in the early resolution of a case, saving time and resources. For example, after evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their cases, parties may enter into a plea deal, leading to an early resolution of the case.

Understanding the Discovery Process

While the rules governing the discovery phase may vary from one jurisdiction to another, some things are standard. First, the defense attorney requests the prosecution to submit their evidence. This may include witness statements, physical evidence, and police reports. Then, the prosecution requests the defense attorney to submit their evidence.

After the initial discovery is completed, the parties can conduct additional discovery processes.  For example, the parties may engage in depositions. Depositions involve giving sworn testimony out of court. During depositions, attorneys have a chance to ask questions and receive immediate responses from the deponents. Attorneys can, for instance, depose witnesses and use the testimony obtained during deposition to challenge the credibility of witnesses. Depositions may also help parties uncover additional evidence or perspectives.

Other methods of discovery include;

  • Interrogatories. These are written questions about the case submitted by one party to another
  • Expert witness interviews. This may be necessary in complex criminal cases.

Types of Evidence That Are Exchanged During the Discovery Phase

Several types of evidence and information can be exchanged during the discovery phase, including the following;

  • Witnesses statements
  • Physical evidence
  • Expert witness disclosures
  • Electronic evidence, such as emails and other electronic documents

Prosecutors are required to share evidence with the defense attorney even if it is detrimental to their case. Nonetheless, there are rules that govern the kind of evidence and information that can and can’t be disclosed during the discovery phase. It is vital that defense attorneys and prosecutors understand discovery laws. If a party fails to share evidence or information they were required to disclose during the discovery phase, they may be sanctioned for non-compliance. Sometimes, the court might even declare a mistrial.

Contact an NYC Criminal Attorney

Our experienced NYC criminal defense attorney, Mark I. Cohen, can help you with your criminal case. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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