Discovery is one of the major parts of the criminal justice process. It’s also one of the least glamorous: during discovery, attorneys slowly exchange information and release records and evidence to each other, allowing you and your defense lawyer to build the strongest case possible. It’s a “behind the scenes” process, but one that is essential to the outcome of your case—it’s your chance to see all the evidence the prosecutor may use against you. And if the prosecutor refuses to turn something over, you can file a discovery motion to force them to do it.
How does discovery work in a DUI case?
The idea of “discovery” is to ensure a fair trial. Basically, if the prosecutor were to hide evidence against you, and try to surprise you with it in court, you wouldn’t have a fair chance to defend yourself. Discovery laws say that you have the right to review all the evidence against you before your trial and prepare your defense. This is especially important because, unlike the prosecutor, you don’t have the police department on your side; you have to run your own investigation to build a strong case.
Discovery usually starts after your preliminary hearing where you are formally charged. Discovery itself is not a single hearing or event, but a process that can last weeks or months—indeed, it can continue nearly up to the date of the trial. However, the earlier you and your lawyer request the most crucial types of evidence, the better.
Here is how discovery works:
- Your lawyer requests various types of documents, records or evidence from the prosecutor
- The prosecutor should hand over the requested evidence in a timely fashion
- If the prosecutor does not, your lawyer files a discovery motion with the court
- The judge will make a decision on whether you have a right to the evidence and, if so, order the prosecutor to release it
What kinds of evidence can I get through discovery?
Almost anything that may count as “evidence” can be requested through discovery. The most common types of evidence in a DUI case include:
- Copies of your own statements (or recordings) as taken by police
- Names and contact information for every witness the prosecutor plans to use
- Any relevant statements that the witnesses have already made (written or recorded), and any reports of what they said from third parties (such as the police officer who talked to them)
- Records of felony convictions of any witnesses
- All “real evidence,” meaning DUI blood tests results, videos of the incident, etc.
- Any evidence the prosecution has found that may be favorable to you—that is, it could help exonerate you
- Any evidence the prosecution has found that could implicate someone else (for example, evidence that the other driver broke a traffic law in a DUI accident case)
You have a right to this information, and in most cases no discovery motion is needed. A simple informal request, verbally or in writing, is enough. But if the prosecutor refuses to hand something over, you can use a discovery motion to compel them.
Why would the prosecutor not turn over evidence?
Prosecutors are working against you. They are supposed to follow the rules of discovery and help ensure a fair trial, and most attempt to do this. Sometimes, however, they may hold up the process or complicate things, either intentionally or unintentionally. For example:
- Some types of evidence comes quicker than others. If you request a copy of the police statement, for example, you could get it right away, because it’s literally just a document that’s already sitting in the prosecutor’s file. On the other hand, if you need a copy of their lab analysis of your blood sample, it could be weeks before the lab even analyzes it. Some delays are understandable, but if the prosecution appears to be dragging their feet, you can use a discovery motion to force their hand.
- Prosecutors don’t have to turn over strategy. There is a difference between the raw evidence a prosecutor is drawing on and their plan for how to use that evidence in the case. A prosecutor does have to turn over your breath test results, but they don’t have to turn over internal memos on how to emphasize those results in court. If the prosecutor claims a document is purely strategic, they may refuse a request unless forced.
- Disagreement over relevance. Imagine that you know the police talked to a witness at the scene of your DUI arrest, but you don’t know the witness’s name. The prosecution doesn’t disclose the witness’s name to you because they claim they are not going to call the witness at trial, so it’s irrelevant. However, you suspect that the witness may have said something that exonerates you or makes you look good—which is very relevant. This would be grounds to file a discovery motion.
- Not specific enough. In general, discovery requests can be very broad and just ask the prosecutor to give “all” or “any” evidence of a certain type. Sometimes, however, the prosecution will claim the request is not specific enough and is just fishing for information. This could also be grounds for a discovery motion.
Most discovery motions involve requests for information from the prosecutor’s office, because they are the ones gathering all the evidence against you. In some cases, however, you can file a discovery motion against a third party. For example, a Pitchess motion can force the police to hand over records that show a history of abuse by the officers who arrested you. Similarly, you can use a discovery motion to force a blood analysis lab to disclose information about how it handles and tests blood samples.
How much does a discovery motion help my DUI case?
Discovery motions can be vital. In most DUI cases they’re unnecessary, but sometimes they turn up crucial information—information that can topple the case. There is no downside to a thorough discovery process; it will never hurt you. It can only help you be better armed to fight the charges against you.
Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.