Co-Defendants and the Motion to Sever

In criminal cases where there are multiple defendants for a single crime, the district attorney or prosecuting attorney can bill the charge under one docket number. This means that all defendants will be tried at the same time in front of one jury or judge.

One Criminal Trial for All Defendants

However, it is often not in a defendant’s best interest to be tried with the other co-defendants, particularly if one of the co-defendants has significant evidence against him or her.  In order to prevent all of the defendants being tried together, a criminal defense attorney can file a motion to sever.  If granted, the motion will allow one defendant to be tried separately from the others.  Under Louisiana statutory law, a defendant can be severed if there is a reason the defendant might not receive a fair trial when joined with the co-defendant.

Let me give you an example: Three defendants are charged with aggravated rape stemming from the same incident. Defendant #1 cuts a deal with the district attorney and gives a statement implicating the other co-defendants. This defendant will testify against the other co-defendants at trial.  The fingerprints of defendant #2 are found at the location of the alleged crime, but there is no fingerprint evidence from the other defendants.

If I am representing defendant #3, I would file a motion to sever so that my client would be tried separately from the other defendants.   Common sense tells me that we do not want to go to trial with defendant #2, who has fingerprint evidence against him, because his potential guilt could taint my client.

Benefit of Separate Criminal Trial

Since defendant #1 will be testifying against my client, if we can separate the trials, this defendant will be a witness for the State rather than a co-defendant.  We will be able to explain to the jury that this witness has received a deal in exchange for testifying against my client.  We can argue to the jury that this case I only about my client and not about the other two defendants.

As a criminal defense attorney, I am a strong proponent of individual trials. I avoid going to trial with co-defendants because evidence against one defendant can taint the co-defendants in the eyes of the jury or judge.   A defendant usually has a better chance of a not guilty verdict for a violent criminal felony offense when going in front of a jury or judge alone.  For more information about criminal defense against violent felonies such as aggravated rape, you can call my law office for a free consultation.