What Is The Discovery Process?
When a lawsuit is filed, it begins a procedure of steps leading up to the trial, provided the case makes it that far. Discovery is the step where both parties, the plaintiff/petitioner and the defendant/respondent gathers evidence that supports their case. This step generally involves issuing interrogatories (questions) and request for production of documents to each other. Discovery can also include depositions as well (face to face questioning between lawyers and opposing clients).
Not all evidence that can be gathered is allowed to be used in the case, and there are parameters established that prevent irrelevant information from being presented as evidence. Attorneys can request information from the opposing party so long as it is as long as it is relevant to the case. However, some information is considered “privileged” and is not discovery or admissible.
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Discoverable evidence can include
- anything someone said, heard, or did
- anything said at a particular time & place
- the identity of anyone who might know something about the case
- information on businesses
- documents (financial documents, contracts, written communication, etc.)
- the background of a witness (personal, profession, educational, etc.)
Privileged (non-discoverable) evidence can include
- discussions between doctor and patient, or lawyer and client
- conversations between husband and wife
- religious advisor and advisee
- documents prepared in anticipation of the pending case (by the client or the lawyer)
Questions of client privacy have been evolving over recent years, and it varies state by state. Generally, clients are protected from revealing information that is not pertinent to the case and not typically exposed to people who are not immediate family or intimate friends (e.g. medical information, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or close family relationships).
Our interactions on social media are discoverable, even “private messages” between parties. We emphasize the wisdom of using discretion on your social media accounts, and part of the reason is that it can end up hurting your case if you find yourself involved in a legal issue, especially in custody, divorce, or insurance issues. We advise our clients to stay off of social media when involved in a legal dispute.
Discovery is an extremely important step in the legal process and a good lawyer will be able to guide you through it and keep you informed every part of the way.