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Legal Dictionary

discovery

Definition of discovery

Pronunciation

Noun

discovery (countable and uncountable; plural discoveries)

  1. (law, uncountable) A pre-trial phase in which evidence is gathered.

    The prosecution moved to suppress certain items turned up during discovery.

  2. (law, uncountable) Materials revealed to the opposing party during the pre-trial phase in which evidence is gathered.

    The defense argued that the plaintiff's discovery was inadequate.

In U.S.law, discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party, through the law of civil procedure, can obtain evidence from the opposing party by means of discovery devices including requests for answers to interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions and depositions. Discovery can be obtained from non-parties using subpoenas. When discovery requests are objected to, the requesting party may seek the assistance of the court by filing a motion to compel discovery.

Civil discovery in the United States

Under the law of the United States, civil discovery is wide-ranging and can involve any material which is "reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence." This is a much broader standard than relevance, because it contemplates the exploration of evidence which might be relevant, rather than evidence which is actually relevant. (Issues of the scope of relevance are taken care of before trial in motions in limine and during trial with objections.) Certain types of information are generally protected from discovery; these include information which is privileged and the work product of the opposing party. Other types of information may be protected, depending on the type of case and the status of the party. For instance, juvenile criminal records are generally not discoverable, peer review findings by hospitals in medical negligence cases are generally not discoverable and, depending on the case, other types of evidence may be non-discoverable for reasons of privacy, difficulty and/or expense in complying and for other reasons. (Criminal discovery rules may differ from those discussed here.) Electronic discovery or "e-discovery" refers to discovery of information stored in electronic format (often referred to as Electronically Stored Information, or ESI).

In practice, most civil cases in the United States are settled after discovery. After discovery, both sides often are in agreement about the relative strength and weaknesses of each side's case and this often results in either a settlement or summary judgment, which eliminates the expense and risks of a trial.

Discovery in the United Kingdom

The same process in England and Wales is known as "disclosure," and is always used in complex civil litigation. As in the USA, certain documents are privileged, such as letters between solicitors and experts. Full details are given in Legal professional privilege (England & Wales).

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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