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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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The reason is simple: clients want white glove service, and lawyers who can win. Every single client who works with the Spodek Law Group is aware that the attorney they hire could drastically change the outcome of their case. Hiring the Spodek Law Group means you’re taking your future seriously. Our lawyers handle cases nationwide, ranging from NYC to LA. Our philosophy is fair and simple: our nyc criminal lawyers only take on clients who we know will benefit from our services.

We’re selective about the clients we work with, and only take on cases we know align with our experience – and where we can make a difference. This is different from other law firms who are not invested in your success nor care about your outcome.

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Understanding Your Federal Criminal Discovery Rights and Evidence Disclosure

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 09:25 am


Understanding Your Federal Criminal Discovery Rights and Evidence Disclosure

If you’ve been charged with a federal crime, one of the most important things you need to understand is your right to see the evidence against you through a process called discovery. The goverment has to share certain information and evidence with you and your lawyer so you can properly prepare your defense. But the rules around federal criminal discovery can be complicated. Here’s a plain English guide to help you understand your rights.

What is Discovery in a Federal Criminal Case?

Discovery is when the prosecution (the goverment lawyers) have to share the evidence they have against you with your defense lawyer. This lets you see the case against you so you and your lawyer can start preparing your defense. Some key types of evidence they have to share include:

  • Documents, photos, videos, recordings, or physical objects they might use against you at trial
  • Results of any scientific tests or forensic exams
  • Information about witnesses they might call to testify against you
  • Any statements you made to investigators after you were arrested
  • Information that might help prove your innocence (called “exculpatory” evidence)

The prosecution usually can’t surprise you at trial with evidence you’ve never seen. Discovery is meant to avoid those kinds of “trial by ambush” situations.

When Does Discovery Happen in a Federal Criminal Case?

Discovery starts soon after you’re arrested and charged. The timing works like this:

  • Within 10 days of your indictment, the prosecution has to share any statements you made after being arrested, your criminal record, and documents or physical evidence they plan to use against you.
  • Within 14 days of your request, the prosecution has to share any other documents or objects they might use at trial.
  • No later than 21 days before trial, the prosecution has to share witness names and statements and give you a chance to inspect physical evidence.

Your lawyer can request discovery at any time after you’re charged. The prosecution has to respond within a reasonable time. New evidence sometimes comes up later in the case too. The prosecution has to share that with you as well.

What Are Your Rights in Discovery?

You have certain important rights during the discovery process:

  • The prosecution can’t wait until right before trial to share the evidence.
  • The prosecution usually can’t show evidence at trial that wasn’t shared with your lawyer during discovery.
  • If there are disagreements about sharing evidence, your lawyer can ask the judge to get involved.
  • If the prosecution doesn’t share evidence that they were supposed to, your lawyer can ask the judge to throw out the charges altogether.

In other words, you have a right to see the evidence early, and the prosecution can’t easily hide anything from you. Make sure you have a lawyer who understands discovery and will fight to get you the information you need.

What About Secret or Confidential Evidence?

Sometimes the prosecution has evidence they think is too sensitive to share openly. For example, the identity of a confidential informant, classified security information, or an undercover agent’s identity. Your lawyer still has a right to see evidence like this, but under special court rules to protect the confidentiality. This is called ex parte review.

The prosecution has to ask the judge for permission to share confidential evidence this way. Your lawyer gets to review the evidence but can’t copy or disclose it to anyone else unless the judge agrees. This balances your right to see the evidence against the need to protect legitimately confidential information.

Can You See the Evidence Yourself?

Probably not – at least not directly. The discovery rules say the prosecution has to share evidence with your lawyer. The lawyer then reviews it and talks to you about it. The idea is to avoid risks like you accidentally revealing confidential informants or trying to intimidate witnesses.

In some cases, your lawyer might be able to arrange for you to review things like documents and photographs directly under supervision. But you don’t have an automatic right to just see the raw evidence yourself. You need your lawyer’s help to interpret the evidence and build your defense.

What If the Prosecution Doesn’t Share All the Evidence?

If the prosecution intentionally hides evidence that they were required to share, it’s called a Brady violation. This violates your Constitutional right to see the evidence against you. If a Brady violation is discovered, the judge can order sanctions against the prosecution or even throw out your conviction if you’ve already been found guilty.

In one famous Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, a man named John Brady was convicted of murder based on testimony of a co-defendant. Prosecutors failed to share a statement where the co-defendant admitted he actually committed the killing himself. The Supreme Court said this violated Brady’s rights and overturned his conviction.

So if you believe the prosecution is hiding important evidence, tell your lawyer immediately. Brady violations are grounds for serious sanctions and overturning convictions. Don’t let the government railroad you by concealing the proof against you.

What Should You Do During Discovery?

Here are some key tips for handling discovery:

  • Work closely with your lawyer – they’re your guide through the process
  • Be patient – discovery can take time, especially for lots of evidence
  • Review the evidence carefully – it could help your defense
  • Tell your lawyer if you see any missing evidence that might help you
  • Don’t try to contact any witnesses yourself
  • Don’t improperly share discovery materials or leak them publicly

Discovery is your friend – it lets you see the strengths and weaknesses of the case against you. Stay engaged with your lawyer, and you’ll get through it together.

The Bottom Line

Facing criminal charges is scary. But you have rights, including the right to see the evidence. Discovery lets you assess the case and plan your defense. Don’t go it alone – have an experienced lawyer to secure your discovery rights. And if the government plays games trying to hide anything, fight back hard. It’s your freedom on the line.

With smart use of discovery, you can expose flaws in the prosecution’s case and get yourself headed towards justice. Knowledge is power, so learn your discovery rights and use them.

Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963)

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