It’s no secret that our legal system is complex. After all, becoming a lawyer in the US requires seven years of schooling on average.
So when you’re charged with a criminal offense of any kind, it’s normal to feel a bit lost. Not only do you need to understand the lengthy process—you’re also expected to somehow understand the “legal-ese” in all your paperwork.
The Law Office of John E. Macdonald has over 25 years of experience in criminal defense. To help you better navigate your case, we’ve put together this complete guide to the discovery period in criminal cases in Rhode Island.
What is the Discovery Period?
The discovery period is the official process during which the prosecution and defense exchange information about any evidence or witnesses they’ll present at trial. This process is meant to benefit both sides.
Without it, you’re at risk of what’s called “trial by ambush.” That’s when you don’t know anything about the prosecution’s witnesses or evidence. This is a problem because you don’t have any opportunity to build a rebuttal.
Since trials are supposed to be fair to both sides, the discovery period is both necessary and beneficial.
How Long Does the Discovery Period Typically Last?
The discovery period can last up to a few months. The way our laws work in Rhode Island, a defendant must request discovery no more than 30 days after your arraignment. After that, the prosecution has 15 days to respond. Their response has to include a time and place for you to review their witnesses and evidence.
The next step is the prosecution requesting their own discovery period. They have to make this request within 21 days of their first response. Then you have 15 days to respond.
Just like before, your response must include the time and place for them to review your witnesses and evidence. It’s a bit of back-and-forth that can take up to a few months based on these deadlines.
That said, things can move faster too. It depends on the nature of your case and how difficult it is to obtain relevant evidence.
How Can I Protect My Rights During the Discovery Period?
The best way to protect your rights during the discovery period is by working with an experienced and aggressive Rhode Island criminal defense attorney.
It’s true that the discovery period should level the playing field. State prosecutors have access to so many more resources than the average citizen. Allowing you time to gather your own evidence and the ability to review the State’s findings makes everything totally fair… on paper.
In practice though, understanding your rights during the discovery period is challenging. The prosecution must adhere to the law during this process. But they certainly won’t be coaching or assisting you in building a solid defense strategy.
And they won’t stop you from saying or doing something incriminating. They’re looking for all the ammo they can get.
But with an expert criminal defense attorney by your side, you don’t have to worry about any of that. A great lawyer will make sure your rights are protected. As a result, your trial will be as fair as possible too.
How Can I Use the Discovery Information to Prepare My Defense?
One of the basic rules of discovery is you’re allowed to gather any information that relates to your case in any way. When you see the information the prosecution is gathering, you know exactly what you need to refute or disprove.
Having the discovery information is like preparing for a test where you know all the questions. Without it, you’re facing the hardest pop quiz of your life.
The discovery information helps you see the bigger picture, too. Prosecutors will often try to relate your character and potential future actions to your current criminal charges. They may gather evidence and present it to cast you in a negative light.
A skilled criminal defense attorney will notice this during discovery. Then, you’ll work together to source evidence and witnesses that strengthen your defense. In terms of both individual pieces of evidence and the bigger picture, discovery shines a light on what the focus of your defense strategy should be. There’s no guesswork.
How Can I Challenge Any Inaccuracies or Omissions in the Discovery Information Provided by the Prosecution?
There are several paths forward if you notice errors or omissions in the discovery information provided by the prosecution. You can file a motion with the court, since judges can order both parties to produce specific documents or pieces of evidence.
Subpoenas are another path forward.
When you follow the proper protocol, you can issue a subpoena to almost any person or entity. This allows you to go around the prosecution and straight to the source of the evidence in question.
Finally, depositions are another tool at your disposal.
Depositions are very common during discovery, whether you believe the prosecution is in the wrong or not. These require a person to speak on the record, under oath. You’re able to ask for any specific information you feel is missing or inaccurate.
What Should I Do if I Believe That the Prosecution Hasn’t Provided All of the Discovery That I am Entitled To?
If you feel the prosecution isn’t doing their part, motions, subpoenas, and depositions are all good options.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re entitled to this information by law. Although doing the paperwork for these proceedings can be challenging on your own, you have every right to do so.
An easier way to get all the discovery information you’re missing is by hiring an aggressive and long-standing criminal defense attorney.
John E. MacDonald has successfully defended clients in every single type of criminal case. This experience means he’s extremely familiar with State prosecutors and judges. No matter what the unique details of your case are, he’ll make sure your rights—including the rights to all discovery information—are honored.
If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges of any kind, there’s no time to waste. The sooner you contact our RI Criminal Defense Law Office, the sooner we can start building your custom defense strategy. Just call us at (401) 421-1440 to schedule your consultation.