Understanding Discovery Responses
Sept. 21, 2023
Discovery is a legal term used to describe how both sides of a civil or criminal case can request, receive, and exchange information, testimony, or items relevant to the upcoming trial. There are various routes to requesting what you feel is needed to state your case, whether you are the defendant, plaintiff, or prosecutor.
The American Bar Association (ABA) says the purpose of discovery is to prevent “trial by ambush.” This means that one side, lacking the discovery process, would enter the trial unaware of the evidence or testimony to be used against them.
If you have received requests for documents or information—often in the form of what are called interrogatories (questions) for an upcoming trial—in or around Memphis, Tennessee, and you’re not sure how to proceed, contact S. A. Jones Law. Shannon A. Jones will advise you of your rights and obligations and help you respond appropriately. The firm also serves clients in Germantown, Cordova, and Covington.
Elements of the Discovery Process
If you’ve been served notice in a civil lawsuit, the notice might well include a set of interrogatories, or questions that you are being asked to answer. Tennessee has a rather short window in which to reply to these interrogatories; just 15 days. To be clear, you don’t have to answer each question. You can object to any or all of them, but you must keep the 15-day deadline in mind.
In addition to interrogatories, the discovery process can embrace other requests and perhaps even subpoenas, though those would have to be approved by a court. You may also be asked to confirm or deny something you said or did, which is called a request for admission.
Depositions are also a prominent part of the discovery process. Depositions are not handled in a courthouse or in front of a judge, but might be conducted in a conference room or an attorney’s office. A party to the legal action, or a witness, may be called in to be deposed under oath. A court reporter will be there to record or videotape the deposition and then create a transcript of what was said and what took place.
As part of the deposition, the party being deposed may be asked to bring in relevant documents, which brings up another aspect of the discovery process—obtaining physical evidence, including documents and even what is called electronically stored information (ESI), which refers to digital data, documents, and records.
Limits on What Can Be Discovered
Certain conversations are privileged, meaning they cannot be requested because they are considered confidential. These conversations include those between client and attorney, between husband and wife, between doctor and patient, and between religious advisor and advisee (often referred to as “priest-penitent”).
Discovery in Family Law
If a divorce is looming and one spouse is suspicious that the other spouse is hiding assets, he or she may request bank records, credit card statements, investment information, and other pertinent financial data, including paystubs, 1099s, receipts, or other forms of income verification. A deposition can also be arranged so that the spouse is forced to testify under oath.
How an Attorney Can Help
If you are involved in a discovery request, even if it is just for interrogatories, you have to remember that the information you provide is going to become part of what the other party will use against you. You need to be careful in how you answer, or if you answer at all because you can legally object, but you better have a solid reason for doing so.
An experienced attorney can help you in all phases of the discovery process and also represent you if matters do end up in court.
Representing Clients With Care and Compassion
If you’ve been served notice of a pending legal action, you have to act quickly. If you fail to respond to requests, even interrogatories, the other party can ask the court to issue a subpoena, or even to seek a default judgment since you failed to comply with their requests.
If you’re in or around Memphis, Tennessee, and you are facing discovery requests, reach out to S. A. Jones Law to guide you and help you comply. Shannon A. Jones will also protect you throughout the process and help you exercise your rights under the law.