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When can you “sever” your case with that of a co-defendant?

On Behalf of | Mar 9, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

A lot of criminal activity results in multiple arrests. Whether it’s illegal drug use, a violent attack or “white collar” crime, like fraud, anywhere from a couple of people to a dozen or more can be arrested and charged with the same offense. In may be that, in reality, they had varying levels of participation in the crime – or none at all, in some cases.

Sometimes, when multiple people are arrested together and charged with the same crime, prosecutors prefer to try them together. It can save time, manpower and resources. However, being tried alongside someone who had a more significant role in an alleged offense than you and who maybe has a long criminal record can put you at a serious disadvantage. If that’s the situation you’re facing, you may be able to ask for your case to be severed from theirs. That involves what’s called a “motion for severance.”

Grounds for severance

Not everyone is granted severance from other defendants. In fact, it’s been described as a “heavy burden.” You must show that you have valid legal grounds for it. A motion for severance needs to be presented to the trial court judge prior to the start of the trial unless something occurs during the course of the trial that provides these legal grounds.

To be granted severance, a person needs to show that there’s a “clear prejudice” against another defendant that would harm their chances of getting a fair trial. That could be, as we noted, a long criminal history or, in particular, a history of committing the crime for which you’ve been accused. Another defendant may have made statements that could prejudice a judge or jury against them.

It’s always wise to have your own legal representation when you’re facing charges along with one or more defendants. It’s vital that someone is protecting your rights specifically. With this individual legal guidance, you can determine whether you have grounds for a severance motion and, if so, work with them to effectively present your case accordingly.