What is The Discovery Process in a Criminal Case?
Discovery is generally ongoing. The way I handle it is as soon as I am hired by a client, I contact the prosecuting attorney and I file a motion with the court so that there is the record that I have requested all of the discovery. After that, it generally takes a few weeks for the state to prepare all of the discovery and make copies of everything they have and deliver it to me. If there is an ongoing investigation, then we receive ongoing updated reports or witness statements as the case proceeds.
Can Prosecutor Ever Spring Evidence on Defendants Like They do on TV?
They should not spring evidence on defendants like they do on TV. The rules are in place so that the state has an obligation to provide discovery in a timely fashion. Of course, something can come up once the trial has started or shortly before trial and generally judges are aware that if that happens that the defense may need a continuance so that the new information can be properly investigated. It’s not supposed to happen but it can happen and then the courts have a way of dealing with that to make sure that the defendant still has a fair trial.
What Happens if The Prosecutor Fails to Disclose All The Pertinent Information in Discovery?
If the state fails to disclose all of the discovery, it’s possible that witnesses could be prohibited from testifying. The state could be prohibited from presenting certain evidence or arguing certain evidence. What that means is that it can be beneficial to the defense if the state can’t present a complete picture because they may not be able to meet their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
How Difficult is it For Someone to Obtain And Review Discovery Without an Attorney?
It is not really recommended if you are facing particularly serious charges to try to handle all of it on your own unless you are trained as an attorney. You may miss an issue and you may misargue an issue or misunderstand the law. The process of requesting discovery is fairly straightforward. It can be done through a letter to the prosecuting attorney. It’s the review and the legal argument that you want to make sure you have a good attorney on your side so that they are looking at and exploring all of the options and that you are included in any strategic decisions. This way you are comfortable that you know your case is being handled in the most professional and competent and zealous way possible.
Additional Information on Discovery in a Criminal Case in Minnesota
A lot of times, and this comes up in the cases with domestic assaults fairly frequently, a client will tell me that the alleged victim, perhaps the significant other or a spouse, wants to talk to me as the defense attorney. We have to be very careful with that because anything that a witness tells me as a defense attorney or tells an investigator working for the defense, we also have to disclose that to the state. There are certain strategies involved in whether we take interviews from certain witnesses or whether we wait until a trial to speak with them. We do also have discovery obligations to the state and failure to turn over a witness statement can be detrimental to the defense if we get statements and then don’t disclose those.
There is certainly a lot to be considered as far as strategy and that’s why it’s important to have an attorney who is going to look at all of those before making any decisions on that type of action.
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