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Criminal "Discovery" in PA

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The Rules of Criminal Procedure in PA require the Commonwealth to disclose certain things to a person accused of a crime.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Criminal Law Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

Clients often ask me, "what is meant by discovery?"  "Discovery" is a lawyer's way of saying the all those items and the process by which an accused receives the items from the Commonwealth in their case that the Commonwealth intends on using at trial.  What is to be disclosed to an accused is govern by statute and case law. 

Rule 573 of the PA Rules of Criminal Procedure provides as follows:

(1) Mandatory.

  • Any evidence favorable to the accused that is material either to guilt or to punishment, and is within the possession or control of the attorney for the Commonwealth;
  • Any written confession or inculpatory statement, or the substance of any oral confession or inculpatory statement, and the identity of the person to whom the confession or inculpatory statement was made that is in the possession or control of the attorney for the Commonwealth;
  • The defendant's prior criminal record;
  • The circumstances and results of any identification of the defendant by voice, photograph, or in-person identification;
  • Any results or reports of scientific tests, expert opinions, and written or recorded reports of polygraph examinations or other physical or mental examinations of the defendant that are within the possession or control of the attorney for the Commonwealth;
  • Any tangible objects, including documents, photographs, fingerprints, or other tangible evidence; and
  • The transcripts and recordings of any electronic surveillance, and the authority by which the said transcripts and recordings were obtained.

So, in a typical criminal matter, the DA's Office will turn over a police report, the defendant's criminal record, proposed sentencing guidelines, any statements of the defendant or witnesses, the results of blood, breath, urine or DNA testing, any recordings of the witnesses providing a statement or any evidence which tends to reflect on the guilt or innocence of an accused.  This list is certainly not exhaustive and, depending on the type of case, there may be many other items of evidence or areas for discovery to be examined.

If you have been accused of a crime or are facing trial, you need to know your rights.  You may contact an experienced attorney at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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