If you’ve ever seen a movie or TV set in a courtroom, then you’re familiar with the idea of a surprise witness or a smoking gun. Just when all seems lost, someone bursts into to courtroom and dramatically announces to the judge that they have found that one piece of evidence or testimony that will win their case! Unfortunately, the reality of court is much less exciting and dramatic than it is in the movies. There are usually few surprises in court, and that’s a good thing—no one would ever want their attorney going into court without having all the facts first. A good criminal lawyer Arlington, TX offers is going to prepare not only for the testimony and evidence they want to submit at trial but also for what the opposing counsel is going to submit as well. In order to do that, both sides need to exchange the information they have to the other. This process of exchanging legal information is called “discovery.”
The discovery process ensures that all parties are able to prepare for trial with as much knowledge as possible and prevents either party from keeping secrets from the other. Discovery isn’t optional; both sides are legally obligated to participate in the discovery process, meaning they must hand over information and evidence to the opposing counsel so that all participants can know precisely what evidence and testimony they are facing at trial. Not only does this help attorneys craft their case in preparation for trial, but it also helps them decide whether going to trial is in their client’s best interests. The discovery process often helps attorneys and their clients realize that settling out of court is the best option. Discovery is usually comprised of a few straightforward components: requests for disclosure, requests for interrogatories, requests for admissions, requests for production, and depositions.
Requests for Disclosure
Requests for disclosure are exactly like they sound: they are requests made by one party asking the other to disclose information about the facts of the opposing party’s case. These requests are non-negotiable—information not provided in response to requests for disclosures may not be admissible at trial and could cost an attorney his or her case. These requests usually pertain to the routine facts of a case, such as:
- The correct names of the parties to the lawsuit.
- The name, address, and telephone number of any potential parties.
- The legal theories and factual bases of the responding party’s claims.
- The amount and method of calculating economic damages.
- Any discoverable insurance agreements.
- Any discoverable prior settlement agreements.
- Any discoverable witness statements.
- The name, address, and telephone number of persons having knowledge of relevant facts, and a brief statement of each identified person’s connection with the case.
- The name, address, and telephone number of any person who may be designated as a responsible third party.
Requests for Interrogatories
“Interrogatories” is just a fancy word for “questions,” and each party is naturally going to have a lot of questions they want the opposing side to answer. Requests for interrogatories are open-ended written questions that help clarify the facts of the case. The kinds of questions asked in requests for interrogatories will depend heavily on the kind of lawsuit you have. For example, if you have a personal injury case, the opposing counsel may ask questions about your medical history. Many law firms have a standard set of discovery questions for each area of law which may not be tailored to your specific case. It’s important to go over your answers to requests for interrogatories with your attorney; many questions may be vague, overbroad, or irrelevant, and your attorney can object to answering these questions just like questions asked to a witness at trial.
Requests for Admissions
Requests for admissions are close-ended written questions that ask the opposing party to either admit or deny a list of declarative statements. Like requests for interrogatories, requests for admissions seek to clarify the facts in black and white. There are usually only two ways to respond to requests for admissions: admit or deny. Requests for admissions are also like request for interrogatories because the kinds of requests will be dependent on what your case is about; for example, if you were involved in a motor vehicle accident, the opposing counsel might ask you to admit or deny that you were on your cell phone at the time of the accident.
Requests for Production
Requests for production are also fairly straightforward: they are requests for the opposing counsel to show what documents and other kinds of evidence they intend to introduce at trial. What an attorney might ask for when making requests for production will also be dependent on the kind of case you have, but may include things like photographs, transcripts of conversations, tax returns, medical records, insurance agreements, bank statements, billing statements, liens, wills, contracts, leasing or rental agreements, emails or text messages, or whatever might be relevant to the matter at hand.
Depositions are oral statements taken of a witness before trial under oath. They are a preview of the kinds of questions that an attorney will ask the same witness at trial. Being deposed is similar to giving testimony with a few key differences. Instead of meeting at the courthouse, depositions are usually taken at a law office. The judge won’t be there, but both attorneys will be, along with the witness and a court reporter. The court reporter’s job is to take a word-for-word transcript of everything that is said by everyone involved in the deposition. There may also be a videographer capturing the deposition on tape. Depositions are usually conducted in person but can be done over the internet via a webcam or even over the phone in certain circumstances. Like testimony given at trial, a witness’ testimony at deposition is given under oath, and lying at a deposition could lead to a witness being charged with perjury.
Thanks to Brandy Austin Law Firm, PLLC for their insight into criminal defense and the discovery process.