In criminal law, the discovery process, which takes place before and throughout the trial, plays a crucial role in ensuring that defendants get a fair trial. During this process, the prosecution provides the defense with the information they plan to introduce at trial, and vice versa.
This exchange of information allows either party to formulate the appropriate plan to counter each other’s arguments. For the defense, the discovery can also determine if a guilty plea should be entered—in this case, if the strength of the prosecution’s case proves to be insurmountable—or if a plea bargain might be a viable option.
While a lot of information can change hands during the discovery process, there are limitations to what can be exchanged. The identity of a confidential informant, for example, cannot be revealed during the discovery until a motion is filed and approved by the court to have the prosecution disclose his identity. Additionally, the prosecution’s work product, such as notes created by the prosecution for their own use, cannot be provided to the defense.
The criminal defense lawyer plays an important role in the discovery process. Using his sound judgment, the defense attorney can assess the strength of the prosecution’s case, thereby allowing him to advise his client accordingly about the best course of action in a particular situation.