Discovery Materials in Federal Criminal Cases

A good rainy Wednesday morning here in my Atlanta office for reviewing some of the discovery materials in yet another federal criminal case I am handling.  Plowing through these materials reminded me of several important lessons I have learned during the 40 years or so I have been representing folks accused of federal crimes here in Georgia and other parts of the country.

As I have posted about previously, federal criminal cases are highly complex, and the “discovery” materials are often daunting for attorneys unaccustomed to handling such matters.  By law and based also on various rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court, prosecutors are only obligated to turn over certain types of evidence prior to trial.  However, with the explosion of data in the past several decades the practice is that many prosecutors turn over anything and everything that is remotely related to the case.  The result is that lawyers are often drowning in data as they try to piece together what happened and how to defend against the allegations.

One of the tricks when reviewing this glut of materials is to do a quick overview of what has been turned over.  Next, the attorney and his or her staff need to begin searching, using various software tools and other aspects of artificial intelligence.  Gone the days when the lawyer touches and reviews each and every piece of paper in the file, because that would take the rest of his or her life in cases such as one I am currently handling which has 15 terabytes of data (and we are still many months away from trial)!  Another key is to try and figure out how the other side is handling the case and sort of replicate their tracks through the maw of material.

The bottom line is that experience makes the process go much more smoothly.  Anyone facing such a case should have an in-depth with his or her attorney as the lawyer plows through all of this material in order to make sure that the client’s story will be brought out at trial.

OK, enough musing, back to going through all this stuff!

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