Discovery in Criminal Cases discovery

Discovery in criminal cases – Criminal charges involve many steps and often involve several governmental agencies.  In the beginning stages of this process, charges and the initial investigation are conducted by the police department, sheriff department, FBI, or some similar law enforcement.

Their role is to investigate by interviewing witnesses, obtaining physical evidence, and collecting witness statements. Eventually, the person charged with a crime gets to see them information and his criminal defense attorney can go over it with him to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the government’s case.

The method by which they eventually see it is through discovery, which we will talk a little about in this blog.

What is discovery?

Discovery is simply the evidence against the defendant in a criminal case.  Specifically, it is the evidence that the government has against the defendant in a potential criminal trial.  This includes all the records of the police, all the witness statements, and any audio or video recording that is the state intends to introduce in court.

How is discovery obtained?

In North Carolina, there is no right to discovery in district court.  The rules regarding discovery in superior court in North Carolina are under General statute 15, sub chapter nine.  South Carolina discovery rules are found in rule 5 of the rules of criminal procedure.  The federal rules of criminal discovery are found under Federal Rules of criminal procedure, 16.

As a practical matter however, typically discovery is shared automatically by the prosecutor in a criminal case. This is unlike a civil proceeding, where discovery requests have to be very specific and often get very contentious.

Why is discovery important?

When you hire a criminal defense lawyer, his or her main source of information about the strength and the weaknesses of your case will be in the discovery.  Your criminal defense lawyer can go over this information with you and evaluate whether a plea bargain is your best option or whether you should proceed with a criminal trial.

Also, the discovery should contain everything that will be potentially introduced in trial. It allows your attorney to prepare the best possible defense.

Other rules regarding discovery

Reciprocal Discovery (North Carolina)

Though the defense is not required to put up any evidence in a criminal trial, sometimes the defense attorney does.  A motion for reciprocal discovery filed by the prosecutor requires the defense to submit to the state prior to trial:

  • Any recordings that will be introduced by the defense at trial
  • The name and report of an expert witness this is going to testify
  • Any documents and photographs that are intended to be introduced at trial
  • The names of potential witnesses to be called

These rules are found under North Carolina General Statute 15A-905.

Protective orders

In some circumstances, the discovery that is given to the criminal defense attorney may be under a protective order by the Court.  This means that all or some of the discovery may not be shared with anyone. In some cases, this may include the client, meaning that the criminal defendant would be prohibited from viewing his own discovery. Of course, in such cases, the criminal defense lawyer is permitted to view the discovery.

Protective orders are typically to prevent witness tampering and witness intimidation.

The criminal defense lawyers at Gilles Law handle criminal defense cases in Charlotte.  We also cater to most counties in North Carolina and South Carolina. Additionally, we practice federal criminal defense. If you have been charged with a crime, contact us.