Discovery in Criminal Cases: What You Need to Know

Being charged with a criminal offense can be an unpleasant experience. Aside from the custodial investigation conducted by the police authorities, you must also deal with a lengthy and time-consuming criminal trial to decide whether you committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

But before the trial begins, both parties can exchange relevant information about the facts of the case within a certain period. This process is called discovery. It involves investigating and obtaining the evidence the opposing party has gathered and plans to present during the trial. Its purpose is to narrow the disputed issues, prevent any surprises at trial, and assist parties in reaching a resolution out of court.

However, like other stages of a criminal proceeding, discovery can be challenging and complicated to deal with. This is especially true if you've encountered it for the first time. To help you navigate this legal process, here's what you need to know about discovery in criminal cases.

1. Essential Components of Discovery

Familiarizing yourself with its essential components is vital to understand how discovery works in criminal cases. These include:

  • Depositions: It refers to taking the witness's out-of-court testimony under oath. In a deposition, the opposing party's lawyer asks the witness questions. Their answers will be recorded and presented during the trial. This discovery method is usually used when the witness can't testify in court at the trial.

  • Interrogatories: It's similar to a deposition, but the questions are given in written format and directed to a party in the criminal case. The party, after that, will respond in writing and sign a sworn statement saying that the information provided is accurate.

  • Request For Admission: It's a component of discovery whereby one party sends written statements to another party, asking them to admit or deny their truthfulness. Requests for admission can help parties establish undisputed facts or narrow down disputed issues in the case.

  • Document Production Requests: It refers to a process whereby one party asks the other party to provide evidence related to the criminal case. These include contracts, police reports, and other documents that can be legally shared with the opposing party.

If you're one of the parties in a criminal case, understanding the different components of discovery can be essential to your case.

For example, suppose you are one of the parties involved and have to deal with domestic violence charges. Interrogatories can help obtain information about the relationship history, criminal record, substance abuse issues, mental health status, etc.

2. Evidence That Can and Cannot Be Shared by the Prosecution

As mentioned, discovery involves gathering evidence relevant to your criminal case. During this stage of a criminal proceeding, both parties will determine which evidence is essential during a criminal trial. Also, each party will know what evidence the opposing party will present. After that, one party may request proof as part of the discovery process.

However, there's specific evidence that can or can't be shared. For example, the prosecution is legally mandated to provide exculpatory evidence material to your criminal case. It's a type of evidence with the following characteristics:

  • One that would demonstrate that the defendant didn't commit a crime that they've been charged with

  • One that can be used to attack the prosecution witness's credibility

  • One that would reduce the defendant's sentence if convicted

Also, evidence is considered material if it would more likely affect the outcome of the criminal trial. Some common examples of material exculpatory evidence include documents or records showing that someone else committed the crime, the defendant wasn't at the crime scene, and the victim wrongfully identified the defendant.

On the other hand, there are also pieces of evidence that the prosecution can't share. For instance, they're not required to share those considered attorney work products even if requested. It's the work a legal professional performs to prepare for a case.

However, other evidence may be disclosed if the criminal defense lawyer requests it during the pretrial stage.

3. Legal Limits On Discovery

Aside from the evidence that can or can't be shared by the prosecution with the defense team, other information can't be a subject of discovery, even if they're material and relevant to your criminal case.

Legal limits on discovery are rules or orders restricting the scope, frequency, or extent of discovery in a lawsuit. Statutes, court rules, judicial discretion, or agreements between parties can impose these limits. The main intention of these limits is to prevent abuse, harassment, undue burden, expense, or delay in litigation.

One popular example is the protection of privileged and confidential conversations. These conversations are conducted between certain relationships, such as husband and wife, doctor and patient, and lawyer and client.

These pieces of information are legally protected under the law, so they can't be requested during the discovery process.


If you're involved in a criminal proceeding, a vast portion focuses on the discovery and evidence you can get to strengthen your case. Therefore, keep the information mentioned above in mind to get the most out of discovery. This way, you can ensure that you adhere to the rules of discovery and provide the best defense at trial with the help of a dedicated lawyer.

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