In every criminal case the government has the obligation to prove the elements of the crime charged behind a reasonable doubt. To meet this burden of proof the government must produce evidence in support of their case. This evidence usually consists of the narrative written police reports prepared by the investigating officers, any video or audio recordings of the accused or any witnesses, written witness statements, any tangible evidence such as murder weapons, any forensic evidence such as toxicology or fingerprint reports, ballistics evidence, and anything else that the prosecutor has in his or her possession that can or will be used to support their claim that a crime was committed.
The law and rules of criminal procedure provide that the prosecutor has an obligation to provide the defense with access to and/or copies of all their evidence prior to trial. In this context, the term “discovery” is used by lawyers and judges as a verb that broadly refers to the process used to obtain copies or access to the prosecutor’s evidence. For example, the court may ask if “discovery is complete” to which the attorneys may response “discovery is ongoing.” The term discovery is sometimes also used as a noun to collectively refer to the total body of written, physical, or digital evidence. In this instance the prosecutor may tell the court that they have provided all of the “discovery” to the defense.
The discovery process usually begins with a written discovery demand prepared by the defense attorney and served on the prosecuting attorney. Depending on circumstances, the investigating agencies involved, as well as the courts involved, discovery demands and or Freedom of Information Act requests may be sent directly to law enforcement or two third parties such as the Michigan State Police forensic laboratories in Lansing.