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Joinder of Defendants

A defendant or the prosecution may file a motion for a joinder of defendants. It is within the trial court’s discretion to grant or deny the motion for joinder. The party seeking the joinder must show that the defendants participated in the same act or transaction or in the same series of transactions. Joinder of defendants requires more than simply showing that the defendants committed similar offenses. The standard for joining defendants is satisfied if the defendants shared a common purpose or scheme and if there was an overlap in their acts.

Multiple Defendants and Multiple Offenses

Where multiple defendants are charged with multiple offenses, joinder should only be permitted when the charged offenses constitute part of a series of acts or transactions that actually resulted in the charged offenses. Often times when a case involves multiple defendants, they are tried together. There is a presumption to try defendants together who were co-conspirators.

In most jurisdictions, state courts encourage the joinder of defendants when logic dictates such a practice. The main argument against joinder is that the evidence against one defendant may unduly prejudice the jury against the other defendant.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Joining Defendants

There are both advantages and disadvantages to joining defendants in a criminal case. An obvious advantage is the convenience and cost of trying more than one defendant simultaneously. Joinder is especially favored if overlapping evidence exists and overlapping witnesses will be presented. It is far less costly to have one trial for the same offenses and offer the evidence once instead of offering the evidence multiple times to different juries.

Joinder may also present a disadvantage to the defendants because prejudice may result. A jury may hear evidence against a defendant in the case and may improperly use that evidence against the other defendant. If joinder is permitted, trial courts must be cautious to instruct the jury on which offenses each defendant is charged with and the admissible evidence that should be considered for each defendant. If any of the defendants would be prejudiced by the joinder, the joinder should not be permitted.


If any defendant raises the issue of that joinder was improper and succeeds; reversal of the defendants’ convictions will be required. The only way that reversal will not be required is if harmless error resulted. The defendants or moving defendant has the burden of proof to show that joinder was improper.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.


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