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Understanding the criminal discovery process

For people facing criminal charges in Tennessee, one of the few good things in their lives is the criminal discovery process. This is the period after their arrest, but before they go to trial, in which the prosecution must turn over a variety of things to their attorney so (s)he has a better chance of mounting a good defense that plants reasonable doubt in jury’s minds so as to result in an acquittal. The defense, too, must turn over a variety of things to the prosecution.

Per Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure, the prosecution must turn over to the defense such things in its possession as the following:

  • Any oral, recorded or written statement the defendant made
  • The defendant’s prior criminal record, if any
  • The names of the defendant’s co-defendants, if any
  • Any documents, or copies thereof, upon which the prosecution will rely
  • Reports of test results, or copies thereof, upon which the prosecution will rely
  • A list of the witnesses the prosecution intends to call at trial

The defense, in return, must provide the prosecution with its own witness list, as well as copies of the documents, test results, etc. upon which it will rely.

Additional tools

FindLaw adds that in addition to the exchange of information described above, each side also can submit the following to the other during the discovery process

  • Interrogatories
  • Requests for Admissions
  • Requests for Production of Documents
  • Requests for Disclosure

Each side also has the opportunity to depose, i.e., question under oath, the other side’s witnesses and expert witnesses. The only exception to this rule is that the prosecution cannot depose the defendant in an attempt to get him or her to confess to the alleged crime or reveal incriminating information against his or her own interests. Nor can the prosecution require the defendant to answer interrogatories, which are quite similar to depositions except that both the questions and the answers are in written format only.

Requests for Admissions are documents containing a set of written statements that one side gives to the other. Usually submitted to potential witnesses, the receiving party must respond as to the truth or falsity of each statement. The defense also often must submit Requests for Production of Documents to the prosecution, asking that it release such as yet to be received documents as police reports, wiretap transcripts, other transcripts or copies of the actual recordings, videotapes, etc. themselves. As for Requests for Disclosure, while they most often relate to disclosure of the names of proposed witnesses, the defense usually also must disclose to the prosecution its intent to rely on such defenses as insanity, etc.

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