Motion to Compel

Motion to Compel Discovery in Federal Criminal Cases

Suppose you have been charged with a federal offense and are preparing a defense to challenge the charges. You have a legal right to understand the criminal charges against you and the evidence that supports those claims. 

Suppose the federal prosecution needs to cooperate to ensure these rights are upheld. In that case, your federal criminal defense lawyer can file a motion to compel, a formal request asking the judge to require somebody to do something. 

Motion to Compel Discovery in Federal Criminal Cases
A motion to compel discovery is a request to order the opposing party to hand over evidence.

Usually, it means “compelling” the prosecutor or a third party in a criminal court case to share relevant information. During the pre-trial stage of a federal case, both sides gather and share much information to prepare their case for court. 

However, sometimes, one side will resist this process. In federal criminal defense cases, this can hurt your ability to defend yourself.  Suppose good faith attempts to communicate aren't successful. In that case, your lawyer can file a motion to compel, asking the federal judge to enforce the issue.
Sometimes, the opposition will also present arguments, and if the dispute is valid and significant, a special hearing could be ordered before the judge to settle the issue. 

If the motion to compel is granted, the other party must comply with the requirements of the motion, or they could face penalties and sanctions, such as contempt of court. The discovery process is a crucial part of the pre-trial phase. During discovery, both sides must share their evidence to prepare for trial. 

If you're accused of a federal crime, your defense lawyer receives critical information to help them design a defense strategy in the discovery phase. A motion to compel discovery can be filed when one side delays or resists.

What is a Motion to Compel Discovery?

In the simplest terms, a motion to compel discovery is a legal document filed by a lawyer asking the court to force another party to comply with the rules and requirements of discovery. Mainly, it's used when there is a delay or resistance after a request for discovery materials. It's a defense attorney's tool to ensure all the evidence is shared in preparation for trial. 

The nature of the motion is based on the case details, such as the type of evidence and who exactly is not cooperating. The types of materials typically requested in discovery include the following:

  • Interrogatories are written questions by opposing lawyers that must be answered in writing under oath.
  • Requests for production are for relevant evidence such as physical items, documents, electronic data, financial records, photos, videos, etc.
  • Depositions are a pre-trial process where someone is sworn in and asked questions about the case while their answers are recorded on video or documented by a court reporter.

Suppose your criminal defense lawyer has decided to file a motion to compel discovery. In that case, they must demonstrate critical elements, such as:

  • The opposing side has unreasonably delayed or refused to comply with its legal discovery obligations,
  • The information they are requesting is essential to the defense,
  • A specific request for what materials must be released. 

The timing for filing a motion to compel discovery typically occurs after an initial request was ignored or objected to by the opposing party. 

Discovery in federal criminal cases is usually more than one exchange at the arraignment. It will continue throughout the case and even into the trial. Defense lawyers must monitor any potential abusive discovery practices by the prosecutor and inform the federal judge. A Daubert motion is an attempt to exclude the presentation of an expert's testimony in a trial.

Motion to Compel – Quick Facts

There are some essential facts you should know about a motion to compel discovery in federal criminal cases, such as the following:

  • A motion to compel is a request to the judge to intervene in the pre-trial discovery process and order the government to hand over evidence it intends to use at the trial.
  • There could be sanctions such as fines, suppression of evidence, and even a dismissal of the charges if material is not released.
  • In criminal cases, defendants are entitled to receive documents, such as photographs and other evidence, from prosecution and law enforcement.
  • Evidence is obtained through the discovery process.
  • Mostly, the prosecution turns over evidence to the defense, but the government could request discovery from the defense lawyer.
  • The types of information obtained range from witness statements and physical evidence to expert testimonies and reports.
  • Privileged information, such as attorney-client communications or self-incriminating evidence, is exempted from discovery.

What is the Role of Discovery?

Federal criminal cases often have several defendants and multiple counts, resulting from an extensive and lengthy investigation by federal law enforcement agencies. They often include complex techniques such as:

  • Wiretaps,
  • Electronic surveillance,
  • Undercover operations, and
  • Involvement of cooperating witnesses. 

As a result, the large amount of discovery materials turned over must be examined by the defendant and their defense lawyer, which can take time.

Discovery Process is Federal Criminal Cases
Discovery materials turned over must be closely examined to properly prepare for a trial.

The discovery process is vital for transparency and fairness in legal proceedings. Its primary function is to prevent scenarios where one party presents previously undisclosed evidence at trial, catching the other side off-guard. Discovery ensures that the prosecution and defense have access to the same evidence, enabling them to prepare adequately for the trial.

The discovery process typically begins after the arraignment.  Both sides often sign a discovery agreement that details the deadlines for the prosecutor to disclose the types of discoverable material, which are usually close to the trial date. 

Many lawyers will negotiate for early disclosure to give them more time to review the documents and prepare for trial. Still, criminal discovery in federal cases will vary by jurisdiction and type of issue.  

Sometimes, the government federal prosecutor will send hard paper documents, but electronic communication or CDs are more common. Suppose there is sensitive information or vulnerable witnesses. In that case, prosecutors will not produce documents; they will require the defense counsel to examine the information in their office.

What If the Motion is Granted or Denied?

Suppose the court grants a lawyer's motion to compel discovery. In that case, the opposing party must comply with the judge's order and give the requested materials within any specified deadline. Failure to do so could lead to sanctions, suppression of evidence, or even a case dismissal.  

Suppose the court denies a motion to compel discovery. In that case, the opposing counsel does not have to provide the requested materials. Your lawyer must accept or appeal the judge's decision. Federal judges can deny a motion to compel for different reasons, such as the following:  

  • The requested information was not essential.
  • The motion didn't name what materials were being sought.
  • The opposing counsel already produced the requested material.
  • The motion is not supported by law or the evidence provided.
  • The discovery would violate attorney-client privilege.

Notably, it's not uncommon for government prosecutors to not always follow the discovery rules, which can become a complex issue in some federal cases.

Our federal criminal defense lawyers understand the criminal discovery process, which can be crucial to obtaining the best possible outcome. Contact our law firm for a free case review. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, California.

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