Shield taken by Taifighta
You are sitting at home on your comfortable couch watching a court room drama. The defendant seems like he is winning the case much to your chagrin. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the prosecutor pulls out a surprise witness and evidence. Then BAM, the jurors all nod along with the prosecutor and the tables have turned for the worse for the defendant.
This is great court room drama, but under the Massachusetts criminal discovery rules prosecutors are generally prevented from using this strategy in real life. Prior to any case going to trial in Massachusetts, the prosecutor and the defense lawyer need to go through a discovery phase. During the MA criminal discovery process, the prosecution needs to provide evidence that it intends to use at trial. The prosecutor also has an ongoing duty to continue to produce evidence that is revealed later down the line.
The Massachusetts rules require the prosecutor to provide evidence that may incriminate you, but also evidence that may help to show that you are innocent. In the past, it would be difficult for you to force the prosecutor to turn over witness statements or even a list of witnesses. Now the MA rules have tried to make the trial process fairer for defendants. With the new MA rules in place, MA courts are trying to make surprise witnesses and evidence is a thing of the past.
There is no standard time requirement that the prosecution needs to provide the discovery. Each court has different time standards and there is no universal rule. In many Massachusetts courts both sides should have exchanged the necessary information by the compliance date. However, some MA courts have ruled that discovery does not need to be completed until 4 weeks prior to trial. Obviously, the more time that your lawyer has with the information, the more time your lawyer will have to create a stronger defense for your case.
The Massachusetts rules of requiring the prosecutor to provide discovery and evidence is not purely intended to help defendants with building their cases. The Massachusetts courts hope that the discovery rules and evidence will help protect the rights of all parties. Generally, there may be certain things that you must turn over to the prosecutor. Usually, the evidence rules will require you to turn over a list of witnesses that you intend to call to trial.
The Massachusetts discovery rules give you a chance to see all the evidence in the case. It gives you a better opportunity to create a stronger defense at trial. It also gives you a chance to assess the prosecution’s case and to determine if you want to plead to the charges.
MA evidence and discovery you can get in a criminal case
Evidence police picture taken by BinaryApe
In every Massachusetts criminal case, the prosecutor sometimes referred to as the Commonwealth in MA has certain obligations. One obligation the Commonwealth has in a criminal case is to provide you with discovery or evidence in your case. Ultimately, it is up to a judge to determine what type of discovery or evidence needs to be given to you. However, in most MA criminal cases, the Commonwealth is usually required to provide certain discovery items.
The Commonwealth does not need to help you find information that is helpful in your case. Additionally, if certain evidence isn’t in the Commonwealth’s possession, the court will usually not require the prosecutor to get the document. In some instances it may be helpful for you to hire an investigator to help find useful evidence to defend your case.
In most cases, the Commonwealth is required to provide you with all the police reports pertaining to the incident. You or your attorney can also obtain your board of probation record. If you end up testifying at trial it may be possible for the prosecutor to use certain convictions to impeach you on the stand.
You may also get the name, addresses, and board of probation records for all the witnesses that the Commonwealth intends to call at trial. Depending on the case, the Commonwealth may also require to provide medical reports, DNA reports, drug certifications, photos, 911 tapes, booking videos and identification procedures if the Commonwealth intends to use these items at trial.
The proper date to request discovery or evidence is on the pre-trial conference hearing date. The Commonwealth is supposed to comply with the discovery or evidence request by the compliance and election date. Ultimately, the judge will decide what evidence or discovery the Commonwealth needs to provide.