Felony Case Packet
One of the most essential aspects of a criminal case is the discovery or the information about the case including witness statements, police notes and evidence. From a prosecutor’s point of view, this is the necessary information that will be used to file an indictment and to try the case. On the other hand, for the defendant, this information is absolutely essential in order to fully understand their case and to prepare their arguments against the prosecutor’s charges.
Discovery can also describe the process by which information about the case is collected and disseminated between the state (police/prosecutors) and the defendant. In short, it is the process by which the state and defendant can find or “discover” important information from each other about the case. An ineffective and inefficient discovery process generally leads to the bad resolution of the case. The discovery process is governed by a fairly complex set of rules that requires both the state and the defense fulfill specific obligations and duties. Those rules, however, are far from uniform across the nation. In fact, the rules that govern the discovery process differ from state to state and also from court to court (Federal, state, county, municipal).
In New Jersey, for instance, the rules for discovery require the police or investigating authority to, at a minimum, supply the prosecutor with the witness contact information, witness statements and record of convictions, police reports and notes taken in the criminal investigation, all statements made by the defendant, all tangible objects and documents obtained from or belogsing to the defendant, the results of any physical, mental or scientific tests performed in the course of investigation and finally, any exculpatory or important information learned in the investigation. Though, that may seem like a large amount of information to collect and make available, discovery rules in New Jersey have changed and will likely continue to change for the production of more information as new ways of collecting and holding information are developed. In fact, one of the biggest changes to discovery laws in New Jersey are a result of changes in information technology and how both the state and society in general use and access information. In 2013, for example, the rules were changed to expand the definition of what “tangible objects and documents" mean. Under the new rule, "tangible objecst and documents" now includes “electronically stored information, and other data were dated compilations stored in any medium for which information can be obtained”. This is to take into account the modern way people store information in e-mails, on their phones or in third-party cloud storage facilities. Rule changes were also made to take into account the expanding duration of a criminal investigation. Another important change to the rules in New Jersey, for instance, is the new requirement that discovery must be ongoing and that any new information learned up to the date of trial must be made available.
While the purpose that underlie discovery rules (the provision of important information about the case) is generally the same in each state and jurisdiction; there are, as mentioned above, differences in specific discovery rules and how those rules are implemented between states.
If you compare the discovery rules between New Jersey and North Carolina, for instance, you will find that while both states consider the rules to be a fundamental part of the criminal procedural laws; in New Jersey the rules are determined and promulgated by the courts whereas in North Carolina, the rules are determined by the legislature. Another difference, is where the rules found. In North Carolina, the rules are found in the laws governing how police must conduct an investigation but in New Jersey the rules are found in the rules that regulate trial procedures.
There are however, many similarities between the rules in both states. Both states require that provision of early pre-trial discovery that includes a broad spectrum of information. Both states also require that the complete file of the criminal investigation is made available and both states require the defendant provide reciprocal discovery information to the prosecutor.
2014 REPORT OF THE SUPREME COURT COMMITTEE ON SPECIAL CIVIL PART PRACTICE. Retrieved on May 17, 2014, from, http://https://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/reports2014/SCP_report.pdf
New Jersey Court Rules: Rule 3:13 - Depositions and Discovery. Retrieved on May 18, 2014, from http://http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/rules/r3-13.htm
North Carolina Crimial Procedure Act, Chapter 15A. Retrieved on May 18, 2014, from http://http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/ByChapter/Chapter_15A.pdf