Discovery is the legal process of information gathering. This process is fundamental to developing or defending a lawsuit or criminal charge. This process will differ slightly in the framework of how it is conducted between a civil and criminal case. This is because criminal cases are governed under the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure while civil cases are governed under the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. There are many differences between the two but for the purposes of discovery the same overarching concept applies – fact finding.
Discovery is a mechanism for obtaining facts that may be relevant to your case. The concept of relevancy has a much wider application in the discovery context than in the context of admissible evidence at trial. This is true for both civil and criminal cases. In criminal cases, the State has the burden of proof and will do the vast majority of fact-finding as they obtain police reports/narratives, any videos or photos, physical evidence, or recorded statements before they make a decision to file a criminal charge but will have to disclose any discovery that they obtain and may use against a citizen accused at trial to the defense. However, an important aspect of defending a criminal case involves taking depositions of all the witnesses in a felony case to check on inconsistencies in testimony or determine the credibility and strength of a witness. The issue of disclosure of confidential informants can also arise. In Florida, you are not permitted to take depositions in misdemeanor cases. For DUI cases (which are misdemeanor unless upgraded to felony under certain circumstances), a formal review hearing can simultaneously work as a deposition of officers involved as it is taken under oath and recorded. Additionally, in certain criminal cases, it can be beneficial to obtain mental examinations during the discovery phase which can assist in the overall outcome of the criminal case.
Civil cases work a bit differently with a handful of overlap. Discovery can be obtained by a number of ways: depositions upon oral examination or written questions; written interrogatories; production of documents or things or permission to enter upon land or other property for inspection and other purposes; physical and mental examinations; and requests for admission as noted in Fla.R.Civ.P. 1.280(a). Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the subject matter of the pending action, whether it relates to the claim or defense of the party seeking discovery or the claim or defense of any other party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any books, documents, or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons having knowledge of any discoverable matter. Fla.R.Civ.P. 1280(b)(1). It is not ground for objection that the information sought will be inadmissible at the trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Fla.R.Civ.P. 1280(b)(1).
The discovery process will differ between civil and criminal cases but the theme of discovery remains the exact same for both – fact-finding of information that may reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.