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Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert

Definition and Purpose of Discovery

Photo of the Lady Justice statue. Caption says 'Definition and Purpose of Discovery'
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

Discovery has been defined as "the pre-trial devices that can be used by one party to obtain facts and information about the case from the other party in order to assist the party's preparation for trial."

Discovery is the pretrial process and ongoing obligation of the attorney that provides for the disclosure of information to the other party regarding the litigation. In general, the rules of discovery provide that the accused is entitled to any information related to the evidence in the case or information that may reasonably lead to discoverable evidence.

In layman's terms, discovery is the sometimes laborious process undertaken to learn the underlying facts surrounding a matter in dispute. Certain devices are available by rules of procedure or practice in various jurisdictions to help uncover the underlying facts.

Discovery includes any known information that will assist in preparing the defense and in preparing for the cross-examination or impeachment of an adverse witness. The rules of discovery also obligate the accused to disclose certain information to the government. Discovery is not unlimited; privileged information or trial strategy is not normally subject to disclosure.

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