Discovery is the formal process by which the prosecution discloses non-privileged information relevant to a criminal investigation prior to trial. It provides the basic foundation for accuracy and reliability in a criminal case. It is a crucial safeguard that helps make our legal system more transparent, ensures a fairer procedure, and helps protect against wrongful convictions. All other aspects of our constitutional system, such as due process and assistance of counsel, depend on complete discovery.
The record of wrongful convictions in this country has demonstrated that exculpatory evidence can be withheld for years, even decades, while an innocent person sits in prison. Whether the state fails to disclose evidence inadvertently or intentionally, clear rules about what is subject to discovery – and clear consequences for failure to disclose discoverable information – minimizes the risk of these mistakes.
For more information on this topic, see these other reports from The Justice Project Education Fund's National Agenda for Reform: Electronic Recording of Custodial Interrogations, Eyewitness Identification and Jailhouse Snitch Testimony.