What Does “Motion for Discovery” Actually Mean in a Docket Entry in California?
A criminal court docket may have many entries for a case, including several motions. A standard entry on criminal dockets is “Motion for Discovery.” This motion is a tool your criminal defense lawyer uses to access the prosecution’s information and evidence against you. Virtually every criminal case that reaches trial will undergo the discovery process. In fact, foregoing this process could amount to legal malpractice depending on the circumstances.
What Is the Discovery Process in a Criminal Case?
Discovery is the process of obtaining copies of the evidence the other side intends to present in court. The prosecution and the defense use the discovery process as part of their pre-trial investigations. They use the information obtained to develop a legal strategy for their case.
During discovery, your lawyer can:
- Gather physical evidence, including documents, computer files, police reports, criminal history, photographs, recorded statements, etc.
- Interview witnesses, both informally by talking to them and formally through a deposition
- Review the police report and the witness interviews conducted by the police
- Consult with expert witnesses, including forensic experts
- Obtain a copy of the prosecution’s witness list
California Penal Code §1054.1 requires that the prosecution disclose specific information to the defense. The information includes witnesses the state intends to call at trial, statements by the defendants, and all relevant, tangible evidence seized or obtained during the investigation.
It also requires that the prosecution turn over any exculpatory evidence. Exculpatory evidence is any evidence that is favorable to the defendant in proving their innocence. The duty to disclose exculpatory evidence continues throughout the criminal case.
When you see a motion for discovery on a court docket in a criminal case, it often involves the prosecution failing to disclose the required evidence to the defense. The result could be a Brady Motion.
What Is a Brady Motion?
A Brady Motion is filed by the defense when they believe that the prosecution has failed to disclose information. The motion takes its name from the United States Supreme Court case of Brady v. Maryland.
In that case, the prosecution withheld a confession from another person stating that he had committed the murder on his own. The statement supported Brady’s allegation that he knew about the murder, but had nothing to do with committing the murder. The statement withheld by the prosecution could have potentially cleared Brady of the murder charges.
After he was convicted of murder, Brady appealed. The Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutor had violated Brady’s Fifth Amendment right to due process by withholding the confession. In addition, the court ruled that prosecutors have a constitutional duty to turn over all exculpatory evidence to the defense.
The defense may file a Brady Motion at any point during the case. The criminal lawyer may file it during the discovery phase if he suspects the prosecutor is withholding evidence. However, he could also file a Brady Motion at any time before the judge begins the sentencing phase after the trial.
Filing a Brady Motion triggers a court hearing, which is why it would appear on a court docket. During the hearing, the defense presents its arguments why it believes the prosecution has violated the Brady Rule.
The defense attorney argues that the evidence in question is favorable to the defendant. The prosecutor argues it is not favorable. Whether the evidence is subject to the Brady Rule is up to the judge.
What Happens After a Brady Motion Is Filed?
There are several potential outcomes of a Brady Motion. First, the judge could find that the evidence is not favorable or exculpatory and deny the motion. The defense would not be able to obtain the evidence to use at trial.
However, the judge could find that the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence. Then, depending on the facts of the case, the judge could order the prosecution to provide the evidence to the defense. The judge could also decide to declare a mistrial or dismiss the criminal charges against the defendant.
If the defendant has already been convicted, the court could overturn or vacate the conviction as in the Brady case.
Why Is Discovery Important in a Criminal Case?
There is very little evidence that the prosecution does not have to turn over to the defense. By filing Motions for Discovery, a criminal defense lawyer can assess the strengths and weaknesses of the state’s case.
Also, the defense attorney may discover facts in the state’s evidence that leads the attorney to discover additional evidence and information that is favorable to the defense. For example, a name given by a witness in a statement could result in evidence that proves another person committed the crime.
An experienced, skilled criminal defense attorney carefully examines each piece of evidence. They search for references and other information that helps build a compelling defense to the criminal charges. The goal is to prove that the defendant is innocent or raise reasonable doubt for an acquittal.
Contact the Los Angeles Criminal Defense Law Firm of The Rodriguez Law Group Today For Help
The Rodriguez Law Group – Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney
626 Wilshire Blvd Suite 460, Los Angeles, CA 90017, United States