District Court does not have Authority to Order Discovery

Discovery is a procedure in a lawsuit in which each party can obtain evidence from the other party before trial begins. It is important in any trial, but especially for defendants in criminal trials because the State has an advantage in the resources available to collect this evidence.

Recently, in Montgomery County, in In re: State of Alabama v. Brown, the Supreme Court of Alabama addressed whether the district court had the jurisdiction to enter a discovery order. Kentory Brown was charged with third-degree burglary and second-degree theft of property. On April 13, 2015, Brown moved for the State to turn over all discovery permitted, and the district court granted the motion. However, the State failed to provide that discovery.

On May 1, 2015, at a preliminary hearing, Brown requested the discovery again. The district court proceeded with the hearing and sent the cases to the grand jury, all while indicating that it would require the State to produce the discovery. On May 4, 2015, the district court did just that – ordered the State to produce the requested discovery within seven days.

The State filed a petition for a writ of mandamus (an order to correct an abuse of discretion made by a lower court) with the Montgomery Circuit Court; the circuit court denied the petition. The State then filed another writ with the Court of Criminal Appeals and was again denied. The State finally petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus.

The Supreme Court explained that the circuit court has exclusive original jurisdiction of all felony prosecutions and of misdemeanor/ordinance violations. Additionally, the district court and circuit court have concurrent with the circuit court to receive guilty pleas for felonies. Finally, the district court has exclusive jurisdiction to hold preliminary hearings for felonies.

The Court determined that the district court’s May 4 discovery order violated Alabama law. The district court had already held a preliminary hearing and could not yet receive a guilty plea. The district court did not have jurisdiction to issue its May 4 discovery order. The State’s petition for a writ of mandamus is granted.

The main takeaway here is that after a preliminary hearing has already been conducted, a district court does not have jurisdiction in criminal cases to enter discovery orders. If discovery is not ordered by the proper court, the State is entitled to a writ of mandamus, so that the proper court (in this case, the circuit court) may be the court to issue a discovery order.

Because jurisdiction of discovery orders can be so complex, it is important to seek an experienced criminal law attorney who understands the realities of Alabama criminal law. If you need a criminal lawyer, contact INGRAM LAW LLC at (205) 236-3997 for help with your case.

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