What is Discovery and How Does it Work?

If you find yourself involved in a legal matter, you might have heard the term “discovery” being used by the court or an attorney. What is discovery? Discovery is a process by which the parties to a lawsuit exchange relevant documents, information and other types of evidence. Discovery is an important step in a legal proceeding. The process and the goal of discovery can vary depending on the type of legal matter in which you are involved.

Family Law and Divorces

After you hire an attorney for a divorce case, your attorney likely will draft a formal discovery request and send it to the opposing party to fulfill this request. Formal discovery can come in various forms. Your attorney might ask for information via a request for production, interrogatories or depositions.

  • A request for production means the opposing party is asked to provide the particular documents for which you and your attorney asked. This typically consists of documents such as paystubs, bank statements and property records. If your case also involves child custody or support issues, your attorney might request production of documents relevant to these issues.
  • Interrogatories are another common way to acquire discovery. Interrogatories are similar to a questionnaire. Your attorney will draft a set of written interrogatories that the opposing party must answer truthfully under oath. These questions can cover a variety of subjects, such as the party listing every bank account he or she has or employment history.
  • Discovery also can be obtained through depositions. Depositions are akin to testimonies at trial. The person being deposed will be asked a range of relevant questions under oath, which can be helpful if your case goes to trial.
  • Informal discovery is another option your attorney might use. Informal discovery is the process of both parties working together to retrieve all material information to your case. While discovery can become very personal and feel as though every aspect of your life is being examined, it is an essential step in finalizing your divorce or family law matter.

Personal Injury

Obtaining discovery in a personal injury case is similar to a divorce proceeding. Like a divorce, your attorney might use the most common forms of discovery: request for production, interrogatories and depositions.

The type of materials asked for will differ. For example, if you have been injured in a car accident, your attorney will request from the liable party all relevant car insurance information. If you believe you have been injured due to a physician’s conduct, discovery likely will consist of requests for the physician’s employment history and liability insurance.

Along with the three usual forms of discovery, there are request for admissions. This type of request is standard in a personal injury suit. A request for admissions is a set of written questions through which you are asking the opposing party, or parties, to admit, deny or object to a statement. These statements can be as simple as admitting to the time and location a car accident or medical procedure. The discovery process for a personal injury claim can be lengthy and complicated. Working with your personal injury attorney and participating in the process can help lead to a favorable outcome in your case.

Criminal Defense

After you have been charged with a crime, retained an attorney, and had your first appearance with the court, the discovery process begins. Your attorney will draft and file with the court a Motion for Discovery and Inspection. This motion also will be sent to the prosecutor on your case. This puts the prosecutor on notice, and he or she will begin to produce all the evidence they have in your case.

Discovery in a criminal case can include an array of materials beyond documents. Your discovery likely will consist of a police report, statements from other parties at the scene, videos and photographs. This discovery is essential to your attorney as he or she forms your case and prepares accordingly.

In addition to the discovery produced by the prosecutor’s office, your attorney will conduct his or her own discovery. Depending on the criminal charge, your attorney may hire an expert to review the evidence, visit the scene of the crime, or hire a private investigator. It is crucial to have hired an attorney for your case as a lawyer will have the needed experience to conduct the discovery. 


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