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The justice system of this country operates under specific rules governing its procedures, just as there are binding laws under which all people and systems in this country must abide.
In the case of the criminal justice system, one such set of governing procedures is that by which evidence is entered in a criminal investigation, and with whom and when that evidence must be shared.
When a person has been accused of a crime, they will likely do one of three things in service of proclaiming their defense: they will hire a criminal defense lawyer, be awarded a public defender, or elect to represent themselves.
Throughout the course of the criminal investigation, a range of evidence will likely be collected by the prosecution. Under the law, each piece of evidence and information that the prosecution gathers must be shared with the defense. In legal jargon, this evidence is called discovery.
What types of Discovery are commonly disclosed to the Defense
There are many types of discovery that are commonly gathered by the prosecution and thereby disclosed to the defense. The first piece of discovery usually received by the defense is the police report. The police report generally contains basic information regarding the incident under criminal investigation, including the names of victims and witnesses present, if there were any. It often includes statements, made by victims and witnesses, as well as information and observations gathered by the responding officers. Police reports or initial discovery may also contain photographs taken at the scene of the alleged crime.
Additional types of discovery include police interviews – of victims, defendants, and witnesses. Additional information, such as medical records and reports and criminal background records of all involved parties are discoveries that must be disclosed to the criminal defense team.
Any discovery collected by the prosecution before the start of the trial must be shared with the defense before the trial. As the trial progresses and further evidence is collected by the prosecution, all must be shared with the defense in a timely manner.
New Jersey law, Rule 4:10-4: Sequence and Timing of Pretrial Discovery
Under New Jersey law, Rule 4:10-4 regarding the sequence and timing of pretrial discovery, it is stated that in the absence of a specific exception, no party may delay the other party’s discovery of evidence.
A particularly important type of evidence that the prosecution must share with the defense before or during the trial is evidence that either goes against the prosecution’s claim of guilt or supports a lesser punishment for the accused crime. This information, called exculpatory evidence, must be shared with the defense. As one could imagine, exculpatory evidence offers a great benefit to the defendant’s case.
While the prosecution is legally bound to share discovery and exculpatory evidence with the defense, it is likely that the defense will submit a formal request for discovery. This is a formality, as a prosecutorial team that did not do so would be in breach of the law.
A 2017 NY Times article investigated the dangerous proximity many state prosecutors have come to withholding discovery until a defendant has pleaded guilty. Called the “blindfold law” in New York because of its inherent restrictions placed on the defendant in the absence of awareness of evidence to be entered into court by the prosecution, the article notes that New Jersey, along with Ohio, require that all evidence controlled by the prosecution must be entered into discovery before a guilty plea by the defendant.
Contact Manasquan NJ Criminal Defense Attorneys for Immediate Assistance
At the West Long Branch, New Jersey office of Chamlin, Rosen, Uliano & Witherington, we are dedicated to serving as fervent legal advocates for our clients. We evaluate each case individually, with special attention to the circumstances involved with your specific case, tailoring our defense strategies to serve your best interests.
If you or someone you love has been implicated in a criminal investigation, or if you believe you have not received the full right under the law to the disclosure of all discovery evidence by the prosecution in support of preparing your defense, please don’t hesitate to contact our team of highly experienced criminal defense lawyers. Call 732-440-3950 or 888-328-9131 (toll-free) to speak with one of our attorneys at no cost.