What is a Richardson Hearing?

July 17, 2023 Criminal Defense

During the discovery phase of a criminal case, both the State and the defense have an obligation to disclose relevant information and evidence to each other. This sharing of information promotes fairness and allows both parties to adequately prepare for trial. If there is reason to believe that an opposing party has failed to comply with their discovery obligations or has withheld evidence, they can request what is known as a “Richardson Hearing.” The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether there has been a violation of the discovery rules and, if so, to determine an appropriate remedy.

This page will discuss the discovery process, how a party can violate their discovery obligations, the intricacies of a Richardson Hearing, and also provide an example scenario.

Notice of Discovery  

Pursuant to Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure 3.220, a criminal defendant has the option to engage in the discovery process. To do this, the defense must file a “Notice of Discovery,” which is a legal document filed to indicate a defendant’s intention to participate in the discovery process. This allows a defendant and their defense team to gather information and evidence relevant to the case that is otherwise in the possession of the State or their agents.

After a criminal defendant expresses their intent to engage in the discovery process, the State becomes obligated to provide the defendant with a legal document commonly known as an “Answer to Demand for Discovery.” This document serves to inform the defendant about the evidence in the State’s possession and any known witnesses that are relevant to the charges pending against the defendant.

The defense is also required to fulfill certain discovery obligations if a defendant elects to engage in the discovery process. This involves providing the State with a list of any evidence or information that the defense plans to introduce at trial that has not already been identified by the State.

The exchange of these documents, the “Answer to Demand for Discovery” from the State and the reciprocal discovery from the defense, is a critical aspect of the discovery process. It allows both parties to have a clear understanding of the evidence and witnesses that will play a role in a potential trial. This mutual disclosure promotes fairness and provides an opportunity for each side to prepare their respective strategies for trial based on the information shared.

While the specific requirements for each the discovery process may vary depending on the case and jurisdiction, Florida prosecutors are generally required to provide the following information in discovery:  

  1. A list of names and addresses of persons known to the State who have relevant information regarding the charges pending against the defendant, or similar fact evidence to be presented at trial.
  1. Statements made by individuals, including written, recorded, or summarized statements, police and investigative reports, and notes from which those reports are compiled.
  1. Statements made by the defendant and any co-defendants.
  1. Tangible papers, photographs, or items that were obtained from the defendant or otherwise relevant to the case.
  1. An identification of any expert witness, in addition to the qualifications and substance of the anticipated testimony from the expert witness.  

What is a Discovery Violation?

A discovery violation can occur when a party intentionally or negligently fails to disclose relevant information, evidence, or witnesses before trial. These specific circumstances and rules governing discovery violations can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific legal system in place. Examples of common discovery violations in Florida are listed below:

  • Failure to identify a witness: A discovery violation may occur if the State fails to notify the Defense about a known witness who possesses pertinent information or has a connection to the charges against the defendant. A violation can also arise during trial if either the Defense or the State attempts to introduce testimony from a witness who was not previously disclosed during the discovery phase. An attempt to present a witness without previous disclosure is often considered a “trial by ambush” because the opposing party may not have had the opportunity to depose the witness before trial.
  • Failure to disclose evidence: A discovery violation may occur if a party fails to provide written statements, copies of tangible evidence, or other relevant evidence to the opposing party pursuant to the discovery rules. For example, a prosecutor who fails to disclose a law enforcement officer’s body worn camera footage may commit a discovery violation if they were aware of the footage.
  • Late disclosure: An excessive delay in providing discovery to the opposing party may result in a discovery violation. Providing timely discovery is important to allow the parties to investigate and review the evidence against the defendant.
  • Failure to disclose known exculpatory and impeachment evidence: The United States Supreme Court has held that the government is required to provide the Defense with any known exculpatory and/or impeachment evidence. This is otherwise referred to as “Brady” and “Giglio” evidence. Exculpatory evidence refers to evidence that tends to prove the innocence or mitigate the guilt of a criminal defendant, potentially leading to their exoneration. Impeachment evidence, on the other hand, refers to evidence that undermines the credibility or reliability of a witness, affecting the trustworthiness of their testimony. If the State fails to provide the defense with known exculpatory and impeachment evidence may result in a discovery violation.

Richardson v. Florida  

The Richardson Hearing takes its name from the landmark Supreme Court case Richardson v. State of Florida. In Richardson, the Florida Supreme Court held that a trial court has an affirmative obligation to hold a hearing once it is put on notice that there has been a discovery violation. During the hearing, a trial court must first determine whether a discovery violation occurred. If a violation occurred, the trial court must then consider (1) whether the violation was inadvertent or willful, (2) whether the violation was trivial or substantial, and (3) whether it affected the defendant’s ability to prepare for trial.

If a trial court determines that a discovery violation has occurred, the consequences can vary based on the severity of the violation. Possible sanction may include a court-ordered exclusion of the improperly disclosed evidence, granting of a continuance, or, in severe cases, dismissing the case entirely. To learn more about the discovery process and discuss the details of your case, you are encourages to seek guidance from a Florida defense attorney.


The following is an example of a Richardson Hearing in Florida:

John is accused of committing robbery. Shortly before jury selection, the State mentions to John’s defense attorney about a witness who would testify about incriminating evidence against John. John’s attorney quickly realizes that the State did not previously disclose the existence of this witness, depriving the Defense of the chance to investigate or depose the witness. Uncertain about the witness’s testimony and lacking preparation for cross-examination, John’s attorney requests a Richardson hearing and alleges that a discovery violation has occurred.

The Court immediately holds a Richardson Hearing to address the possible discovery violation before allowing the jury to enter the courtroom for trial. During the hearing, it was revealed that the State had been aware of the witness for several months but mistakenly omitted the witness from their written response to the Defense’s demand for discovery. Because the State’s oversight was unintentional, the Court decided against dismissing the case. Instead, acknowledging the prejudice it would cause John, the Court grants a motion to postpone the trial, allowing the Defense time to investigate and depose the witness before proceeding to trial.

Contact a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida  

If you or a loved one are facing criminal prosecution in Tallahassee or the surrounding areas, it is in your best interest to reach out to a defense attorney. A defense attorney can review your case details and strategize a defense plan to fight the charges against you. If your case calls for a Richardson Hearing, the criminal defense attorneys at Pumphrey Law Firm can help you understand and navigate the process.  

Don Pumphrey and his team represent those in need of defense in Leon County and the surrounding areas. Contact our office at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message for a free consultation.  

Written by Karissa Key

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