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Discovery is one of the foundational parts of the American court system. At its core, this process basically guarantees a fair, speedy, and efficient trial.
This post provides a quick primer on how legal discovery works. Keep reading to learn about the types of discovery and the rules that limit how you can use the discovery process to get the best legal outcomes.
What Is the Purpose of Discovery?
When it boils down to it, the purpose of a trial is to discover the truth so that a jury of peers can make an informed decision. This requires sharing information.
Discovery is the process of exchanging information before two teams go to court. With this purpose in mind, two opposing sides have to meet before a trial to exchange evidence. The process begins immediately after a meet-and-confer session.
Truth be told, this is one of the most important parts of a trial. Organization and communication are the keys to success during the discovery stage. Succeed during discovery, and the trial will be that much easier.
Types of Discoverable Information
Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) mentions three types of discoverable information. Here’s a brief primer of each.
1. Electronically Stored Information (ESI)
ESI may include writings, graphs, drawings, photographs, audio and video files, images, and data compilations.
ESI can live in many different places like computers, cloud databases, and mobile devices.
2. Tangible Evidence
Tangible evidence has to do with physical objects. For example, it could include paper documents or gifts like clothes or electronic gadgets.
3. Designated Land or Private Property
In some cases, you may have to venture onto private property to obtain information. For example, this may include investigating a data center, office, warehouse, production center, or private residence.
Forms of Discovery
Legal discovery can come in many forms. Here is a breakdown of the top forms you’ll likely come across.
During an interrogatory, a legal team issues a set of questions to a victim or witness.
The point of an interrogatory is to hold an individual to a statement. Legal teams cross-reference interrogatories at various points to uncover the truth.
For example, following a car accident, an individual may claim they were driving safely. A little bit later, it may slip during a deposition that they had their eyes on the radio.
This type of slip-up could cause an opposing party to question the person’s moral character or mental capacity—neither of which looks good during a case.
For guidance on interrogatories, see FRCP Rule 33: Interrogatories to parties.
A deposition is a sworn statement that a defendant or victim makes in court. Whereas an interrogatory is a series of questions, a deposition is a testimony that you give under oath.
There are two types of depositions: written and oral statements.
In some cases, a court may compel a witness to issue a testimony.
When this happens, a court issues a subpoena. This is a summons ordering a person to appear in court.
To illustrate, a person may witness a robbery. A judge may then issue a subpoena, ordering the witness to issue a statement about the event.
You can find subpoena guidelines in FRCP Rule 45.
Requests for Admission
At a certain point during the discovery process, you may need to ask the opponent to admit or deny statements or allegations. Admission requests happen under oath.
For insight on requests for admission, see FRCP Rule 36.
Requests for Production
A request for production is a formal inquiry for ESI, tangible evidence, or inspection.
When issuing a request for production, you have to give formal notice to the other party. This notice must specify each category of items that you want to inspect. You also have to state the time of place, the manner for inspecting, and the form of choice for ESI.
See FRCP Rule 34 for a rundown on production requests.
What Is the Scope of Discovery?
When it comes to requesting information, legal discovery isn’t a free-for-all. You can’t use the discovery process to access random files from another party, for example.
To illustrate, a party would have difficulty accessing someone’s personal emails after a car accident unless there was reasonable cause.
FRCP Rule 34 says a party may serve a request on any other party within the scope of Rule 26(b). So, in essence, the FRCP protects your rights by preventing a party from accessing information they don’t need during a case.
Rule 26(b): Discovery Scope and Limits
Rule 26(b) outlines specific limitations for the scope of discovery.
Simply put, 26(b)(1) states that unless a court order says otherwise, parties can obtain discovery for any nonprivileged matter.
The matter must be “relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ access to the information,” and available resources.
You must also consider the importance of discovery in resolving the issues and the overall burden of discovery.
What’s more, the FRCP states that information within this scope of discovery doesn’t need to be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.
Section (2) outlines limitations on frequency and extent. It explains that the court may limit the number of depositions, interrogatories, or the length of depositions.
The court can also limit the number of requests under Rule 36 (Requests for Admission).
Section (2) includes limitations on ESI. A party doesn’t have to provide discovery for ESI from “sources that the party identifies as not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost.”
The court may still order discovery from such sources if there is a good cause. Furthermore, the court can also specify discovery conditions.
Section (C) says a court can limit the frequency or extent of discovery under certain conditions. The court has to determine that sought discovery is “unreasonably cumulative or duplicative.” Or, the court must rule that it’s possible to obtain the information in a more convenient way. This can also occur if the party seeking discovery has ample time to obtain the information, or the discovery is outside the scope permitted by Rule 26(b)(1).
Let Venio Take the Reins With eDiscovery
Discovery is pretty straightforward. But when it comes to eDiscovery, there’s a lot to learn. After all, this is an emerging field within the legal industry. So, if your head is spinning, you aren’t alone.
On top of that, eDiscovery is very complex. It involves storing, managing, and sharing large volumes of data. This can be overwhelming—especially for busy departments with multiple clients.
For help, many firms are turning to eDiscovery solutions like VenioOne — a purpose-built, end-to-end eDiscovery platform.
Your team can use VenioOne to handle all aspects of eDiscovery, from identifying sources all the way through to presenting information in court. By using VenioOne, you’ll lower eDiscovery costs, speed up production, and reduce risk.
Experience the product for yourself by requesting a demo today.
This post was written by Justin Reynolds. Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling.