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Massachusetts Discovery Rules Protects Against Surprise Evidence

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Attorney Jason Chan

267 North Beacon Street, Suite 3
Boston MA 01235


Phone: 781-343-1DUI (781-343-1384)
Fax: 617-226-7986

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You are sitting at home on your comfortable couch watching a court room drama.  The defendant seems like he is winning the case much to your chagrin.  All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the prosecutor pulls out a surprise witness and evidence.  Then BAM, the jurors all nod along with the prosecutor and the tables have turned for the worse for the defendant. 

This is great court room drama, but under the Massachusetts criminal discovery rules prosecutors are generally prevented from using this strategy in real life.  Prior to any case going to trial in Massachusetts, the prosecutor and the defense lawyer need to go through a discovery phase.  During the MA criminal discovery process, the prosecution needs to provide evidence that it intends to use at trial.  The prosecutor also has an ongoing duty to continue to produce evidence that is revealed later down the line. 

The Massachusetts rules require the prosecutor to provide evidence that may incriminate you, but also evidence that may help to show that you are innocent.  In the past, it would be difficult for you to force the prosecutor to turn over witness statements or even a list of witnesses.  Now the MA rules have tried to make the trial process fairer for defendants.  With the new MA rules in place, MA courts are trying to make surprise witnesses and evidence is a thing of the past. 

There is no standard time requirement that the prosecution needs to provide the discovery.  Each court has different time standards and there is no universal rule. In many Massachusetts courts both sides should have exchanged the necessary information by the compliance date.  However, some MA courts have ruled that discovery does not need to be completed until 4 weeks prior to trial.  Obviously, the more time that your lawyer has with the information, the more time your lawyer will have to create a stronger defense for your case. 

The Massachusetts rules of requiring the prosecutor to provide discovery and evidence is not purely intended to help defendants with building their cases.  The Massachusetts courts hope that the discovery rules and evidence will help protect the rights of all parties.  Generally, there may be certain things that you must turn over to the prosecutor.  Usually, the evidence rules will require you to turn over a list of witnesses that you intend to call to trial. 

 The Massachusetts discovery rules give you a chance to see all the evidence in the case.  It gives you a better opportunity to create a stronger defense at trial.  It also gives you a chance to assess the prosecution’s case and to determine if you want to plead to the charges. 


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