Is Discovery in a Criminal Case a Public Record? - Deposition Academy | Deposition Video Tips (2023)

19 FebIs Discovery in a Criminal Case a Public Record?

Posted at 23:16hin Depositions, Examination Under Oath by Matt McWilliams

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When you go to court, what is the first thing that happens? You are likely given a copy of your criminal case file. This isn’t just for show – it’s so that you can get ready for trial. Your discovery in a criminal case is considered a public record by law. This means that it should be available to anyone who wants it. But there are some exceptions.

So, is discovery in a criminal case a public record? In most cases, it is. You will have to check with your local laws and speak with an attorney about the specifics of your case though. Public record means that anyone can access the document. That includes you, your criminal attorney, and even those who aren’t involved in the case such as members of the media or protesters (yes, they exist).

In this post, we will take a closer look at what information is considered part of the discovery and what states are exceptions to this rule.

What Is Discovery?

Discovery in a criminal case is what you get before going to trial. This gives defendants time to prepare their defense strategies by reviewing evidence that has been gathered against them. In addition, they can ask witnesses questions or gather more information on the person to sue them (in civil cases).

In some states, this also applies to victims who want justice as well as those accused of crimes such as DUI or assault if they are trying to prove self-defense.

This may include police reports from law enforcement officers involved in the investigation; forensic testing results including blood alcohol content levels or DNA test results; and any other evidence gathered by law enforcement.

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A public record is an information that can be accessed, used, and distributed freely without violating privacy laws. This means that both the prosecution as well as the defense are allowed to access it for their preparation before trial.

The media may also use public records during criminal cases – if they have been permitted an attorney representing one of the parties involved.

Victims sometimes participate too but this depends on individual rights within your state’s constitution. So what about discovery in a criminal case? Anything considered part of “discovery” falls under public record provisions because you don’t want secret evidence being held against someone accused of committing crimes.

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The information you receive should be made available to the media and anyone else who requests it for their preparation before trial.

However, there are exceptions – such as medical records (health conditions), school records (criminal history), or social security numbers (social standing). Some of this may also fall under protecting an individual’s right to privacy which means that some things may not be considered part of your “discovery.”

Types of Criminal Cases

There are three different types of criminal cases: misdemeanors, felonies, and infractions.


Misdemeanor crimes include the least severe offenses such as DUIs or minor drug charges. Felony charges can be anything from assault to murder depending on state law. Most states classify misdemeanor charges as those which carry a maximum sentence of one year in prison or less while felony sentences range between two years up to life imprisonment (or death).


Felonies are considered more serious crimes and include violent acts such as assault, rape, or murder. In all states except for eleven, felony cases must go through the district court before trial unless it has been waived by both parties involved in criminal proceedings.


These are often traffic violations that do not rise to the level of misdemeanors or felonies but they can still carry jail time depending on your state’s law. Unlike misdemeanor charges which require a jury verdict beyond a reasonable doubt; infraction convictions only need to be proven “beyond a reasonable” doubt.

This makes them easier to prove than felonies even though their sentences might not necessarily be lighter. The key is to know your rights when it comes to criminal charges.

Is Discovery in a Criminal Case Public Record?

Yes – discovery is considered a public record in most states. This means that both the prosecution and defense are allowed access to “discovery” evidence before trial for their preparation purposes. This includes interviews with witnesses, police reports, DNA results, etc.

Your state may have exceptions but this varies depending on individual privacy laws within your specific constitution so you’ll need to check with local law officials or an attorney who understands what’s available under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

However, there are usually restrictions toward certain information such as medical records which aren’t always accessible through FOIA provisions even though they can be part of “discovery.” Victims also participate but this varies depending on your state and their rights.

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Is Discovery in a Criminal Case a Public Record? - Deposition Academy | Deposition Video Tips (2)What is Discovery in a Legal Case?

Discovery refers to any information that can be accessed, used, or distributed freely

without violating privacy laws. This includes things such as medical records, social security numbers, school records (criminal history), etc.

This means both the prosecution and defense can access it for pre-trial preparation purposes including interviews with witnesses, police reports, DNA results, etc.

There may also be exceptions based on individual privacy laws within your specific constitution so you’ll need to check with local law officials or an attorney who understands what’s available under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The media can also use public records during criminal cases – if they have been permitted by courts.

When is Discovery Used in Court?

Discovery is used during the pre-trial period of a lawsuit, whether it’s civil or criminal. During this time, both sides are required to disclose evidence related to their case and provide any potential witnesses that they might use in court.

The purpose of using discovery before trial is so each party can prepare for what will happen at trial. This is done by reviewing all relevant information provided by the other side. This includes witness testimony as well as physical evidence like documents or photographs that could be presented during trial.

There are many elements involved with litigation. However, these forms of evidence play an important role in helping develop legal strategies for your case. Discovery takes place before actually going to court. Because of this, it also allows you more time to find attorneys who specialize in your area of law.

So, when is discovery used in court? Pretty much any time there’s litigation involved—whether it be civil or criminal cases. You can use this knowledge to save yourself some time and find the right attorneys for you without wasting money on someone who isn’t experienced with what you’re facing in court.

Discovery begins before trial. This ensures that each side has a chance to review all the evidence provided by the other party. It provides more opportunities to prepare legal strategies. It also allows individuals more time to find an attorney specializing in their particular type of case.

Is Discovery in a Criminal Case Available Online?

What information is considered public record in a criminal case? A lot depends on where you live. Public records laws vary from state to state. Generally speaking, public records are available to the general public and can be requested by anyone. This means individuals who aren’t involved with your case or criminal charges.

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In California for example, information about a person’s arrest is considered public record. This includes what law enforcement agency made the arrest as well as any other police reports related to it.

In addition to this, if you’ve been convicted of a crime in court, all documents associated with that conviction become part of your permanent file. This means they’re accessible online through various government websites including PACER, an online service for retrieving case information.

When it comes to discovery, since criminal cases are open to the public, you can access any of the documents associated with your charges through PACER or other government websites that offer free downloads of court records.

Public records vary depending on where you live. Generally speaking, all of this information is available publicly and anyone can request it even if they’re not involved in the situation at hand.

When someone is arrested in California for example, arrest details like what law enforcement agency made the arrest, as well as police reports related to it, become part of their permanent file accessible by downloading them from various government-run websites including PACER. This is a website used for obtaining case information when filing legal claims.

Is Discovery in a Criminal Case a Public Record? - Deposition Academy | Deposition Video Tips (3)States That Don’t Consider Discovery Public Record

Some states don’t consider discovery documents in a criminal case to be public records. This is because they argue this information could potentially put someone’s safety at risk if it falls into the wrong hands.

Kentucky, New York, South Carolina, Washington D.C., Florida, and Texas are just some examples of U.S. states where certain types of records involving court proceedings aren’t considered public records by the courts or law enforcement agencies involved with your specific charges.

These kinds of activities take place out in the open for anyone to see. When going through cases online using PACER, for example, certain documents aren’t considered public records in most states. This is because they argue that this information could potentially put someone at risk if it falls into the wrong hands. It isn’t something individuals should have access to without a court order or other legal filings.

In Conclusion

In most states, discovery in a criminal case is a public record. However, to learn if your state is an exception to this rule, we advise speaking with a legal professional.

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Is a discovery the same as a deposition? ›

One of the most common methods of discovery is to take depositions. A deposition is an out-of-court statement given under oath by any person involved in the case. It is to be used at trial or in preparation for trial.

What is the purpose of a discovery deposition? ›

The purpose of the discovery deposition is to discover all the facts a witness may know, which will help the attorney in the preparation and trial of the lawsuit. Depositions sometimes help to settle the case, because the facts are known to both sides.

Is discovery the process of obtaining information from an opposing party before trial? ›

The process of obtaining information from the opposing party or from witnesses prior to trial is known as DISCOVERY - includes gaining access to witnesses, documents, records, and other types of evidence. This prevents surprises at trial by giving both parties access to evidence that might otherwise be hidden.

What is the discovery phase of a trial? ›

Prosecutors must also provide the defendant copies of materials and evidence that the prosecution intends to use at trial. This process is called discovery, and continues from the time the case begins to the time of trial.

What documents are part of discovery? ›

This investigative process is aptly named "discovery," because it often turns up facts and documents that were previously unknown -- to at least one party to the lawsuit anyway.
They are:
  • Depositions. ...
  • Requests for production of evidence. ...
  • Interrogatories. ...
  • Requests for admission.

What are the three forms of discovery? ›

The three forms of discovery are:
  • Written - This form of discovery takes place on paper. ...
  • Document Production - This form of discovery involves an exchange of documents. ...
  • Oral - Sometimes known as depositions, this form of discovery allows parties to gain sworn statements from involved individuals.

What not to do during a deposition? ›

Depositions are important, and there are certain things that you should not do while being deposed.
  • Lie. ...
  • Guess or speculate. ...
  • Engage in casual conversations with the court reporter or other people present. ...
  • Volunteer unnecessary information. ...
  • Fail to carefully review documents. ...
  • Answer leading questions. ...
  • Lose your temper.

What can't be asked in a deposition? ›

You have a right to refuse any questions about a person's health, sexuality, or religious beliefs (including your own). The opposing attorney will have to explain how your answer has a direct bearing on the case in order to compel you to answer.

What are the modes of discovery in criminal cases? ›

To recall, there are two (2) modes of discovery in the U.S. Federal Rules of Criminal Proct:1dure: (1) Depositions under Rule 15; and (2) Discovery and Inspection under Rule 16.

What are the two types of deposition? ›

Depositions are an enormously useful and important resource and typically the most effective way for parties to obtain information necessary for trial. Illinois rules provide for two types of depositions: discovery depositions and evidence depositions.

Are depositions usually taken in the courtroom for purposes of discovery? ›

Depositions typically occur during the discovery phase of a lawsuit and have two purposes: first, to learn what the witnesses know and record their testimonies, and second, to allow both parties to learn all of the facts before their trial so that no one is caught off-guard during the trial.

What qualifies as a discovery? ›

“Discovery” refers to the stage of litigation where each party has the opportunity to obtain information and documents from other parties.

What are the 5 types of discovery? ›

There are basically six types of discovery in family court: 1) interrogatories; 2) requests for production of documents and inspection 3) requests for admissions; 4) depositions; 5) subpoenas duces tecum; 6) physical and mental examinations.


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