Before a trial begins in Tennessee, both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s separate teams go through a process of exchanging information they’ve gathered about the case. This swap of information is called discovery. The process is used in both criminal and civil cases, and many of the same procedures are used to make sure all parties receive the necessary information. Knowledge that’s not disclosed during the discovery period cannot be introduced in the trial. The only exception would be if the information was learned after the trial had started. While many of the steps are similar, there are distinct differences between discovery in criminal cases versus civil cases.
In a civil case, each party is required to file a formal request for documents from the other side. The party in receipt of the document request is only required to produce the documents asked for. In a criminal case, both sides are required to produce any documents in their possession that relate to the case. This is true even if the documents are not included in the request.
While disclosure requests can differ by state, most courts require that each party disclose any intent to use expert witnesses. In criminal cases, defendants must also disclose if they intend to use an insanity plea or any other special defenses.
Depositions are important in both criminal and civil cases because they provide an opportunity for both parties to ask questions of potential witnesses. These witnesses are sworn to say the truth, and there are not many rules about what questions can be asked.
Those who find themselves involved in a criminal trial will soon learn that discovery is one of the most important parts of the process. It could be a good idea to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the rules of discovery and how to best use them in the defendant’s favor.