Discovery is one of the most critical stages in preparing for a trial. This is when the prosecution and defense teams get together to exchange all the information and evidence they have before they present it at the trial. The point of discovery is to make sure neither side feels ambushed or unprepared during the trial, as they should already know what evidence the other side has. The discovery process also allows both the prosecution and defense to prepare for witnesses by giving them the chance to arrange a deposition to hear their statements and ask questions.
If your case is moving toward trial, you should learn the basic facts of the discovery process in Florida and then ask your lawyer any questions you have.
What Do Lawyers Collect During Discovery?
When lawyers begin the discovery phase, they can request access to various documents that could help them prepare the case for trial. This might include police reports, receipts, emails, bills, inspection reports, or other relevant documents. To obtain these documents, the lawyers will often use a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order that requires a person to provide requested evidence, appear at a deposition to testify, or attend a court hearing.
Lawyers can also request interrogatories, which are answers to any questions they have about the details of the case. To submit an interrogatory, a lawyer from the other side will send a list of written questions to the opposing lawyer that they wish to have answered by a specified individual. The written answers to these questions must be returned within a set time limit. The people who answer these questions must write their responses under oath to ensure their validity and accuracy, but their attorney is allowed to help them craft their answers. The number of questions in an interrogatory is limited by court rule, but the exact number varies by jurisdiction.
Additionally, attorneys can use discovery to request that people involved with the case submit depositions. In some cases, plaintiffs or defendants may be asked to undergo mental or physical exams for the purpose of verifying their claims. If certain documents play a key role in your case, your lawyer can request that the documents face an expert examination to ensure that they are genuine. Your Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer will determine what to ask for during discovery based on the details of your case.
What’s the Most Common Method of Discovery?
Among the most valuable tools in discovery is deposition. This is a statement that’s given under oath and out of court. It allows attorneys on both sides to ask questions and get answers from any witness involved in the case, with the responses being recorded on video or a written transcript, or both.
The witness being deposed is known as the deponent. Depositions usually start with an oral examination, after which a lawyer from the opposing side will cross-examine the deponent. All parties are allowed to question the deponent during the proceedings. While both lawyers are present for the deposition, they cannot directly coach the deponent during their deposition and their ability to object to any line of questioning is limited.
When Can Deposition Testimony Be Used at Trial?
The point of a deposition is to ensure both sides know what will be discussed at the trial. However, because depositions are performed out of court, they are generally considered “hearsay” and are inadmissible in court, except in three key situations:
- If the witness contradicts their deposition during their trial testimony.
- If the party makes an admission to something that is against their interests during the deposition, such as admitting to a crime.
- If the witness is unavailable for the trial.
If any of these circumstances occur, then the deposition information becomes relevant and can be admitted for use in the trial.
How Can You Prepare for Your Deposition During Discovery?
A deposition can be nerve-wracking for many people, but your defense lawyer can help you prepare so you can face the process with confidence. Before you attend the deposition, they will likely discuss the rules governing the proceedings, what documents you will likely be seeing, potential questions you may face, and general guidance on how to answer those questions and conduct yourself in the courtroom. Some tips for a successful deposition include:
- Tell the truth: Be honest, but do not guess at answers if you are unsure. It is ok to say, “I don’t know” when you are uncertain.
- Do not volunteer information: Only provide the information that directly pertains to the question. If there is a long silence after your reply, stay calm. Some lawyers use silence as a technique to make deponents uncomfortable so they continue sharing information.
- Remain polite and composed: A deposition is the opposing lawyer’s chance to see your demeanor and how you may look on the stand at trial. They may ask personal or uncomfortable questions to check your reactions. Try to stay courteous, even if things become heated.
When Does Discovery Take Place?
Discovery takes place early on in the trial preparation process. However, it’s not the first step, as your lawyer usually focuses on any hearings you have first, such as the arraignment hearing.
After that, your lawyer will start preparing your case for trial, at which point they will request discovery. This process can take anywhere from several weeks up to a few months, as it takes time to gather documents, depositions, exam results, and more.
If you have questions about the discovery phase of trial or any other element of your case, you can get thorough answers from a caring, skilled lawyer when you contact our Fort Lauderdale law office. Call 954-523-3811 to get the legal guidance you deserve.