Pre-Trial Discovery a Basic Definition for Family Law Cases
In the legal field, all experienced attorneys will tell you the most important aspect of a case is the evidence you have to support your case. Of course, having a strong foundation in the law helps you determine what evidence you will require, how to obtain it and how to submit it to state your case. Evidence could be your testimony in a case if you are a strong witness or documents and other tangible items such as bills, statements and letters. Being "right" truthfully does not mean that a Judge or Commissioner will agree with you without supporting evidence. Sending out discovery is one of the most important aspects of a legal case to obtain your evidence. Discovery may be broken down into three portions, pre-trial, trial and post-trial discovery. Discovery procedures have been codified in the California Civil Discovery Act (Ca Civ Pro § 2016.010 et seq.).
This article deals with pre-trial discovery and should help give you a very basic guideline to some general discovery terms. There are generally four types of pre-trial discovery that may be used to gather evidence. Subpoena's, Interrogatories, Request for Admissions and Production of Documents. Subpoena's may be used to depose party members or any other RELEVANT person to prove your case. "Deposing" a person requires them to come to a certain location (including the date of trial) at a certain time and in some cases bring relevant documents. A Subpoena can not be abused to harass an individual and doing so may lead to attorney's fee's against the subpoenaing party. There are deadlines to when a subpoena must be sent out, how much time they have to comply with the subpoena and motions for sanctions if the subpoena is not complied with. Interrogatories generally come in two different forms. These forms are, Special Interrogatories and Form Interrogatories. Form Interrogatories are interrogatories prepared by the state Court system and may be found at: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/forms/ .
Special Interrogatories, are questions that are not included in the forms and are relevant to your case. Generally, Special Interrogatories, have a set of definitions that describe words that are used in the request and must be specific and relevant to the issues. Request for Admissions are similar to Interrogatories. They are questions that ask for the other party to admit or deny allegations. When reviewing a Request for Admissions, the party should note if they are leading in nature. Uncertainties in the questions being asked must be clarified by the demanding party.
A Request for Admissions is not to be feared and should be used as an opportunity to help resolve issues so that both parties can determine the true issues of the case and not waste time and money on issues that are not pertinent. Production of documents is a discovery request where one party asks another party to turn over any relevant documents to support their case. These request generally also have a "definitions" section to help define any words that are confusing to a lay individual. If there is any doubt as to what is meant by a word, the party should notify their attorney and their attorney should keep a list of these items to clarify with the party who requested the production of documents.
Though there are other types of discovery, such as Physical and Mental Examinations, Vocational Exams, Expert Witness Disclosures, 730 Evaluator Exams, Preliminary/Final Declarations of Disclosures and the list goes on and on, many of these discovery procedures may not be used in your case. Generally however, Preliminary/Final Declarations of Disclosures which is a necessity in almost all Divorce cases. Preliminary and Final Declarations are simply documents and forms showing the income and expenses of each party and all property owed by each party. I hope this helps the reader in understanding some of the confusing and obtuse terminology used by attorneys and people in the field of law regarding discovery and its procedures.