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Discovery Sanctions in Your Criminal Case

In legal parlance, “discovery” refers to the exchange of certain information between litigants before a trial occurs. In a civil lawsuit, both the plaintiff and the defendant have an obligation to share with one another certain information and evidence they intend to use to support their positions at trial. In the context of a criminal case, the plaintiff (the prosecution) has an obligation to provide information and evidence in its possession to the defendant. This includes information that may tend to exonerate you or lessen the punishment you might expect to receive from the court if you were convicted.

You, the defendant, may also have an obligation to provide certain limited information to the prosecution if you intend to present certain evidence.

Sanctions for Discovery Violations

Courts generally prefer not to get involved in disputes concerning discovery (what has and has not been produced, whether someone has complied with their legal obligations, etc.). Instead, courts would rather parties in a criminal case work together to ensure all discoverable material is exchanged in a timely manner. This does not always happen, however. The prosecution may turn over important evidence so close to trial that the defense has no time to review the material. Or the prosecution may choose not to turn over certain information at all. What can the court do when the prosecution fails to fulfill its discovery obligations? As it turns out, the court has considerable power to impose one or more sanctions:

  • Verbal reprimand: This is the “slap on the wrist” punishment and merely involves the judge scolding or reprimanding the prosecution for failing to comply with its discovery obligations. This is likely to occur if the violation is minor in nature or inconsequential but the prosecution has had discovery compliance issues in the past.
  • Delay in trial: If evidence is “sprung” on the day of trial or close to trial, the court may grant the defendant a brief continuance or delay in order to review the evidence. A court will usually only do this when the evidence is capable of being reviewed in a short amount of time (such as a car camera video or report of an officer).
  • Exclusion from trial: When the evidence that is sprung upon the defense unexpectedly is more substantial in nature, or where there is no opportunity to delay or continue the trial, the court may prohibit the prosecution from introducing the evidence altogether and/or making reference to the evidence.
  • Dismissal of charges: In egregious situations that result in fundamental unfairness and/or violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights, the court may order that the charges against the defendant be dismissed. This is an extremely rare sanction and is usually only imposed where the prosecution or law enforcement deliberately concealed exonerating information or evidence from the defendant.

Experienced Miami criminal defense lawyer Jeffrey S. Weiner fights vigorously for his clients at every stage of their criminal cases. He is not afraid to hold the prosecution accountable for discovery violations they commit. Retain the services of a knowledgeable and aggressive criminal defense attorney: Contact Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. by calling (305) 670-9919 or by completing the firm’s online contact form.

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