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Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert


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National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

The discovery process is designed to facilitate the judicial process. Working communication between the expert and the attorney handling the case should be established at the earliest possible point. This will help facilitate the process, minimize the time demands of the expert witness, and prove invaluable throughout the case.

The expert must be familiar with the discovery rules applicable to the case. This familiarity will aid in the preparation of the discovery material provided to the attorney. It is always good practice for the expert to ask the retaining attorney to provide guidance or an opinion on which discovery rules apply for the litigation jurisdiction. The expert should consult and rely on the attorney handling the case to determine in certain situations if a piece of information is discoverable or not.

Certain cases may present special considerations for the expert witness. For example, cases where there may be proprietary, licensee or relevancy objections to disclosure may necessitate the expert or agency to consult their own independent legal counsel.

Discovery is the general term for the ways in which information is formally gathered to support and supplement the expert's fact and evidence investigation. A thorough understanding of the discovery process will help the expert work more effectively within the legal system. Criminal and civil discovery have certain distinct differences. However, in either setting, constant digging and pressure are necessary to obtain relevant information. Cooperative effort, blending the expert's investigative activity with formal discovery, is likely to yield the best results.

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