Legal Definition of Discovery
Discovery, in the context of civil litigation, is a pre-trial procedure in which each party can obtain evidence from the opposing party or parties through the use of discovery devices such as requests for answers to interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions, and depositions. Discovery can be used in both civil and criminal cases, although the process can vary significantly between the two.
The primary purpose of discovery is to prepare for trial by requiring the parties to disclose evidence that they intend to use at trial. This process helps to prevent “trial by ambush,” where one party is surprised by evidence presented by the other party at trial. Discovery allows both sides to know before the trial begins what evidence may be presented. It is intended to make the trial a fair contest and to limit the element of surprise in litigation.
Common forms of discovery include:
- Interrogatories: Written questions that one party sends to the other party, which must be answered in writing and under oath.
- Depositions: Oral questioning of a witness or a party under oath, with the testimony recorded for later use in court.
- Requests for Production of Documents: Demands for the other party to produce certain documents that are relevant to the case.
- Requests for Admissions: Requests that the other party admit or deny certain facts in writing and under oath.
- Physical or Mental Examinations: In certain cases, a party may be compelled to undergo a physical or mental examination.
Discovery can be a lengthy and complex process, especially in cases with large amounts of evidence or in complex legal matters. The rules governing discovery are detailed and are designed to balance the need for disclosure of relevant information with protection against harassment and invasion of privacy. Discovery disputes, which may arise when a party believes that another party is withholding information or providing inadequate responses to discovery requests, can be resolved through motions to compel discovery or protective orders filed with the court.
While discovery is an essential component of the legal process, it can also be costly and time-consuming. To manage the scope and cost of discovery, courts often set limits on the extent and duration of discovery and encourage parties to cooperate and engage in voluntary exchange of information.
In summary, discovery is a crucial phase in the litigation process, allowing parties to gather the necessary evidence to build their cases and prepare for trial. It ensures transparency and fairness in legal proceedings by providing each party access to the relevant information needed to argue their case.