What is “discovery?”

“Discovery” is the evidence relating to the charges or to sentencing that is produced by the government. “Discovery” can be five pages long, consisting of a rap sheet and a police report. It can also be hundreds of thousands of pages of documents in a complex case. Discovery can include photographs of the scene, an informant’s name and background, or forensic evidence such as fingerprint or DNA analysis.

When a public defender is appointed to represent a defendant, one of his/her first jobs is to ask for discovery from the government. Except for very rare exceptions (such as sensitive information relating to a confidential informant), a defendant has the right to see all discovery provided by the government.