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I have a civil trial coming up. I have been accused of speeding in a motor vehicle and plan to defend myself against this false charge.

I made a motion for discovery which was for very basic information about the event, essentially a description of how the trooper determined that I was speeding. The court granted my motion and the trooper has received it and signed for it, however the trooper did not provide me with a description of his method and, in fact, told me during a pre-trial conference that he would not provide me with such a "narrative".

Is it my best strategy to simply go to trial and object at the trial that the prosecution has failed to comply with the motion for discovery, or do I need to make an additional pleading ahead of time?

If I make a pleading, there is the risk the trooper might take the motion more seriously and provide the requested information. However, if I go to court directly, I am concerned the judge might say, "Well, you needed to file pleading XYZ with the court ahead of time if you wanted complain about the non-compliance with discovery."

So, the basic question here is a point of law: if a party fails to comply with a granted motion of discovery in a civil/administrative trial, does an additional pleading of some kind need to be made ahead of time, or will the failure to comply automatically become grounds for dismissal at trial?

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Convention in U.S. process is to:

  1. Attempt "in good faith" to "meet or confer" with the opposing party to try to resolve the discovery dispute directly.

  2. Failing step #1, file a Motion to Compel with the court. Rules of Civil Procedure (e.g., FRCP 37) typically have strict requirements for filing such motions.

Judges generally frown upon discovery disputes lingering until the beginning of a trial. Which means the outcome of an objection or motion in limine on such matters can be abrupt and unpredictable. If the judge is inclined to side with the party requesting the particular discovery:

  • He will most likely issue an order compelling compliance and continue the case (i.e., reschedule the hearing for a later date that allows time for compliance with its order).
  • He could also grant or unilaterally impose sanctions if he feels the non-responsive party's behavior is "dilatory, obdurate or vexatious."
  • A judge in a very bad mood could conceivably dismiss the case with prejudice or grant a summary judgment against the recalcitrant party.

However if the judge concludes that the party requesting discovery was insufficiently diligent, or that the discovery is not reasonable or essential to the trial, he will probably overrule any objection and let the trial proceed.

  • 1
    "dilatory, obdurate or vexatious": nice. Do the quotation marks imply that those words came from a particular source? – phoog Sep 11 at 19:55
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    @phoog yes, that phrase appears frequently in rules of procedure and case law (at least in Pennsylvania), especially as criteria for judicial sanctions. I just did a quick search to see if the exact phrase (like many things) is unique to PA, and it appears that may be the case. But analogs appear in other codes: E.g., 28 USC calls out "unreasonable and vexatious" behavior. – feetwet Sep 11 at 20:14
  • Well, first of all, the prosecutor/trooper told me he was not going to supply the information, so that is willful non-compliance. Secondly this is a speeding ticket we are talking about, so that I don't want to unnecessarily create paperwork for the court if the simplest solution is for them to dismiss the case "in limine". – Cicero Sep 12 at 1:46
  • @Cicero: "Willful non-compliance" with an unreasonable demand is no point against a party. Courts typically allow for procedural behavior to be deemed "reasonable" using the "light most favorable" to the party whose actions are being scrutinized. – feetwet Sep 12 at 14:26
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    @Cicero, correct: If the judge approved your motion then it was not unreasonable. My earlier comment referred to the question of whether it was reasonable for the counterparty to refuse your request. It is possible – even likely – for a court to determine that both parties are behaving "reasonably," even if in the end the court must rule in favor of just one party. I.e., there is a very wide margin between procedural disagreements and a court concluding that one party is so far out of line that it merits sanctions. – feetwet Sep 12 at 14:52
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My experience in a NY State Municipal Court: Back in the day before affidavits were included on traffic tickets, there was a box to check requesting one if you went to trial. I checked it, but didn't get one and the officer did not show. My case was dismissed as a result.

I was told that since I showed for the trial and the State, in effect, did not, that to have another trial would be double jeopardy.

It could also have been that the court was just too busy to bother. However, I've seen the situation and heard about it from others as well.

Your mileage may vary.

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