When Do Prosecutors Have to Reveal the Evidence They’ve Discovered?
To be able to convict someone of a crime, a prosecutor must gather evidence that shows the person committed that crime and convince a judge and jury of the fact. There are a variety of types of evidence used in a criminal trial. In order for a trial to be considered fair, the defendant and their attorney must know what evidence will be used against them so they have a chance to refute it.
The process of finding out about a prosecutor’s case is called discovery. Through the process of discovery, a defendant can:
- Obtain copies of any police reports
- Obtain copies of statements given to prosecutors by witnesses
- Examine the evidence that the prosecutorial team will introduce at trial
In days past, the prosecution wasn’t able to obtain information or evidence that would be used by the defendant. In more recent years, discovery has become more balanced. Just as the defendant is permitted to obtain information about a prosecutor’s case, the prosecutor can obtain information about the defendant’s case.
When Discovery Occurs
The process of discovery is one that occurs before a case goes to court. If you believe what you see on television, prosecutors can spring evidence on a defendant at trial, surprising everyone with a hidden witness or piece of evidence that has just come to light. This is not allowed in real life.
The process of discovery has two purposes: to ensure that a trial is fair, and to encourage deals or case settlements. When a defense team knows what evidence will be used, they can make judgement calls as to the feasibility of winning at trial. If a defense attorney believes the prosecutor has a solid case, that attorney may advise their client to settle out of court in return for a better outcome.
That said, it’s important to understand that a prosecutor doesn’t have to show their hand months ahead of time. Discovery can unfold in a way that is more gradual; a case doesn’t have to be revealed all at once. For example, a defense team may receive copies of police reports sooner than they receive the results of any chemical tests. This is because certain pieces of evidence are more readily available, despite the prosecution knowing what they will and won’t use.
When a defendant chooses to go to trial, they are engaging in a match of skill between a prosecutor and defense attorney. Both sides have the right to know what the other will be doing and the evidence they will introduce. It is in this way that the criminal justice procedure is made fairer to all involved.
If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in DeKalb County, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Reach out to our office today for more information on how we can help you. We will schedule an appointment for a free case evaluation and assist you in making decisions pertinent to your case.