Discovery is one of the final stages before a federal trial begins, and this stage can reveal the extent of the case against you. Conversely, discovery may show that your defense is stronger than you initially believed.
At this point, your case should be assigned to an Eastern or Middle District Court in Pennsylvania. Your attorney and the prosecution are preparing for trial, even if they negotiate a plea bargain before trial begins. You should know which federal District court will be hosting your case.
What Happens During the Discovery Process?
Following your arraignment and any necessary preliminary hearing, your attorney and the prosecutor(s) trying your case will engage in discovery. As the name indicates, discovery generally involves both sides “discovering” the evidence and witnesses they will face during trial.
Much or all of the discovery process will occur in a courtroom before a judge. This may be the same judge that presides over your trial. As part of discovery, the judge may oversee hearings to:
- Determine if evidence is allowed during trial
- Determine if witnesses, or specific testimony, are admissible at trial
- Hear any plea bargain that the prosecution and your attorney have reached during the discovery phase
- Rule on any pretrial motions presented by the prosecution or your attorney
Per the American Bar Association (ABA), both sides generally share the evidence and witnesses they plan to rely on at trial during discovery. Depositions, or interviews taken under oath (and often filmed and transcribed), are a way for prosecutors and defense attorneys to question witnesses before a trial. Depositions generally occur as part of the discovery phase, too.
What Happens During a Deposition?
Depositions generally take place outside of the courtroom. The prosecutor and attorney in your case may have access to witness' depositions via transcript or videotape, and often both. A deposition may allow both sides in your case to:
- Question opposing witnesses, perhaps catching them in contradictions that could help your case at trial
- Anticipate what witnesses will say at trial, allowing your attorney or the prosecutor to craft rebuttal arguments before the trial begins
- Argue that a witness, or specific elements of their testimony, should not be allowed at trial
- Clear their own witnesses for use at trial
Witnesses and their testimony can be a substantial piece of a federal trial. In some cases, witness testimony may be the defining feature of a trial. It is vital that prosecutors, defense attorneys, and a judge vet these witnesses before the trial begins. The discovery process allows all parties to question witnesses and determine the legitimacy of their testimony.
Does Either Side Have to Disclose All Witnesses and Evidence During Discovery?
Per the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), “Prosecutors must also provide the defendant copies of materials and evidence that the prosecution intends to use at trial” during the discovery phase. The DOJ also notes that prosecutors must share “documents and other information which may reflect upon the case” during the discovery phase and even throughout trial.
The prosecution must also share exculpatory evidence with your attorney. However, like in the grand jury process, failure to provide exculpatory evidence may expose the prosecutor to sanctions but may not necessarily change the outcome of your case. There are many examples of prosecutors failing to share exculpatory evidence, though we will work hard to secure on our own any evidence that proves your innocence.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) explains that there is some responsibility for a defense attorney to “demand” evidence from the prosecution during discovery. This is another reason you will want an experienced attorney to represent you in Pennsylvania's Eastern or Middle District court.
A capable attorney will pay close attention during discovery. If the prosecution mentions a piece of evidence or witnesses, your lawyer should demand a copy of the evidence, witness information, or testimonial transcript. Your attorney should analyze such information for themselves, searching for any feature that could benefit your defense.
Do I Need an Attorney During the Discovery Phase?
It is important to have an attorney that you trust on your side during the discovery phase. With a keen approach, an attorney may secure evidence, testimony, or other resources that lead to a dismissal of the charges against you, an acquittal, or another positive outcome.
The Lento Law Firm can be the law firm that fights for your freedom. Call us today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.