Due to concern over the conviction of innocent people, Governor Rick Perry signed into law the Michael Morton Act (SB 1611) introducing a new era for discovery for Texas prosecutors. It came into force on January 1, 2014. The general theme of the Act is not just to seek a conviction, but to ensure that justice is done in the process. The prosecution is not allowed to suppress evidence that could reveal the innocence of the defendant.
Discovery is the process that allows disclosure of information to take place between defendants and plaintiffs prior to a court appearance. This could involve written and oral questions and the producing of certain documents. Discovery was initiated as a way of preventing trial by ambush.
There are a number of features of discovery as outlined below.
When it comes to questions they are mailed to the defendant, the plaintiff or the relevant attorney for a written response usually returnable within 30 days of submission.
This is when verbal questions are asked by a plaintiff or defendant which requires an immediate response. A court reporter usually records the responses and the person has to swear to tell the truth before the start of the questioning.
Documents that are likely to be used in the trial are produced. A party may attain discovery for the description, existence, nature, condition, custody, contents and location of all or any documents, which includes books, papers, accounts, graphs, drawings, videotaped recordings, charts, and photographs.
These are in the form of written questions where the other party is required to deny or admit a relevant fact.
Objections to Discovery
Objections to all discovery questions may be made if the questions are not relevant, or are likely to lead to the discovery of evidence that is relevant.
The Use of Experts
A party may acquire discovery of the location and identity, including the telephone number, name and address of an expert who might be called upon in the capacity as an expert witness, the subject matter which the witness is likely to testify, the likely opinions held by the expert and the facts that are known to the expert.
Any party who is alleging mental or physical injury and damages arising from the case has to provide an authorization upon written request allowing the disclosure of medical records which are related to the injury.
Mental and Physical Examination
When the physical or mental condition, which includes the blood group of a party, or of an individual who is under the legal control of a party, is in doubt the court can order the party to be physically or mentally examined by a psychologist or physician.
If you are in the situation that you have a court case pending and you require more time to respond to discovery, you may ask the other party, in writing, to extend the time required. This ensures your rights are protected.
The features of discovery can get quite complicated and it is necessary for you to collaborate with your lawyer in Texas before you go through the process. The reason for this procedure, amongst other things, is that it saves both court time and money for the plaintiff as well as the defendant.