A Criminal Mind: Disclosure inventory a key to good defence

One of the keys to preparing a  good defence, or even to establishing that there is one, is the disclosure inventory. Ideally, the disclosure inventory is a one-page document on which you can see, at a glance, whether the file is complete. It also includes a summary or synopsis of the case.
Now, some police officers produce briefs that are a thing of beauty with a table of contents and indexes. These are a rarity. Too many briefs are post-Stinchcombe thickets that you must weed through.

They seemingly contain everything you might want. This is when you must be really careful to find out what is missing. Most disclosure inventories fit on a sheet of yellow foolscap (no high-tech here - and very easy to locate in the file).

The inventory starts with the date the file was first reviewed and the client’s full name and date of birth. Under this, it is helpful to put the number of the information and the police occurrence number, so that they are readily available when you write that inevitable letter about the missing disclosure. Below that, one can list all charges by section number and briefly describe the allegation (e.g. name of complainant, weapon used).

The next section is crucial for checking completeness of disclosure. I list all witnesses on the Crown’s witness list, and beside that I have three columns in which I can place check marks for receipt of their will say, their written statement, and their video/audio statements. Any omissions result in a circle rather than a check mark.

Your eye will quickly learn to jump to these empty circles. In a domestic, you would want to add a fourth column in which to check off whether the Crown had met the complainant and had disclosed those notes.

Next, I list all of the police officers. Again, there are three columns next to the officers’ names: will say, reports, and notes. Again, I check off which of these I have received and put a circle where anything is missing.  Some officers helpfully mention in their will say that it serves as their report.

The inventory is “file-driven” - what works for a domestic does not work for an impaired. Consider what ought to be in the file.  Some things are constants: you will need a copy of the information and any undertaking or recognizance. You will usually want the 911 call.

So after listing all witnesses, I list the things that I would have expected to see: accident report, medical reports, statement of the accused, receipts for damages, exhibits seized, videotape of the shoplifting. If an item is included, there is a check; if not, there is a circle.

At the bottom of the page I compose a brief, objective summary, which is annotated after meeting with the client, who has now also reviewed the disclosure. If there are ID issues, if the complainant “got physical” first, this is where I note it.

After reviewing disclosure I decide what is really missing. The decision is made whether or not to order it. As the new disclosure comes in, you can put a check mark in the circle.

The added convenience of the disclosure inventory is that it is very portable for pretrials. The list of charges at the top of the page can be marked up with notes as to which counts could be offered on a plea (to those or to included offences). If the pretrial is being used to discuss trial readiness, the inventory readily reveals what is missing.

Preparing a draft inventory is a useful task to assign to students, and reviewing the draft inventory is useful for the lawyer, too.

The beauty of the inventory, in addition to revealing the deficiencies of the Crown’s case, is that it can make you look good. It avoids the embarrassing question that the client or the Crown might pose: did you receive so-and-so’s statement? “Just a minute - I’ll check my inventory.”

Rosalind Conway practises criminal law in Ottawa. She can be reached at [email protected]

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