“Discovery” can be seen in two different contexts.
In one context discovery is “lawyer slang” for videos, papers, police reports, and other tangible objects that are related to your case. When an attorney tells you they will look through the discovery and then get back with you; they are referring to looking at all the physical items the prosecution turned over to them and then giving you a call to explain what they found.
In a second context discovery is a legal term of art for the procedure of finding evidence that could be used in your case. This procedure usually takes place at the beginning of a case. Commonly it is done by a criminal defense lawyer submitting a request to the prosecutor’s office or law enforcement agency to give them all of the materials they have regarding a specific case. In some jurisdictions this can be as simple as filing out a form the police station has. The information will usually be turned over within a couple of weeks. A lot of times when the attorney receives this initial discovery, items will be missing. Sometimes it’s a report that was referred to by a video or statement but said report wasn’t included. If this happens your attorney will file a “Request for Discovery and Inspection” with the court. This document will outline the evidence the defense attorney wishes the prosecutor’s office to provide them. It will be up to the prosecutor to either provide the items or explain to a judge why they will not provide them.
While this process with the prosecutor’s office is going on, a defense attorney will also do their own discovery. They may visit the alleged crime scene, interview witnesses, talk to experts about certain issues, hire a private investigator, or subpoena a relevant police manual. The discovery process is where you try to obtain as much information as your can about the alleged offense in order to know all of the facts. Discovery is crucial to a case, and the better an attorney does during this process, usually the better result their client will receive. Discovery is also time sensitive as evidence can be removed or destroyed, witnesses forget what happened, and as time goes on, information obtained can be found to be less reliable.
Here are a few discovery forms from area jurisdictions.