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Legal Memorandum: Relief from a Prejudicial Joinder

Issue: When co-defendants are joined in an indictment, may a trial court sever the co-defendants’ trials if it appears that the joinder will prejudice a defendant?

Area of Law: Criminal Law
Keywords: Prejudice to a defendant; Joinder of co-defendants
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a)
Date: 10/01/2008

When co-defendants are joined in an indictment or information, Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a) permits a trial court to sever the co-defendants’ trials where it appears that the joinder will prejudice a defendant.

In assessing the motion the court is to strike an appropriate balance between conserving judicial resources and potential prejudice to the movant.  United States v. Joshua, 976 F.2d 844, 847 (3d Cir. 1992).  Where, as here, joinder may call into question the jury’s ability to properly make a reliable judgment as to the movant’s guilt or innocence, there is prejudice that outweighs the conservation of judicial resources and severance should be granted.  See Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 539 (1993).  To illustrate the point the Supreme Court stated, “[f]or example, evidence of a co-defendant’s wrongdoing in some circumstances erroneously could lead a jury to conclude that the [moving] defendant is guilty.  When many defendants are tried together in a complex case and they have markedly different degrees of culpability, this risk of prejudice is heightened.”  Id. at 539.

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