Articles Posted in Co-Defendants

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Crimes occur with many participants. Murders, car-jacking, embezzlement, fraud, white collar crime, insurance fraud, and almost any crime you can imagine can happen with more than one defendant. Anytime there is a case involving multiple defendants there is the possibility that one of the defendants will turn “state’s evidence”. In other words, one defendant works out a deal with the District Attorney or United States Attorney for a lesser sentence, lesser charges, or even a complete dismissal in return for testifying against the remaining defendants.

What should the defense attorney do who is faced with the co-defendant who is now cooperating with the prosecutor? Of course, the first thing the prosecutor will do is require the cooperating defendant to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, no matter who is asking the questions”. The “truth” is an elusive term. Ideally, it means that the testifying co-defendant will, in fact, reveal all to the jury and to anyone who asks the questions.

In reality, for the prosecutor the “truth” means testify to the same statement that the cooperating defendant gave when arrested. When looking to give a deal to one or more defendants, one of the most desirable qualities is that the statement given when arrested is the one the prosecutor wants to use as the “truth” of the case. Then when the testimony is given it is consistent with the earlier statement and makes it easy for the prosecutor to argue to the jury that testimony is the same as the earlier statement and thus is “truthful” since when the first statement was made there wasn’t anything promised in return.

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Many times a case has multiple defendants. A crime will occur and several people will get arrested. Some might be friends or they might be strangers to each other. But, like most events in our lives, we do what we do with people we know.

So what happens when several people are prosecuted in the same case? All the defendants have their own lawyers because each defendant has his own point of view, his own measure of responsibility and his own interests in how the case comes out. Because of this, the defendants are often offered a chance to cut a deal with the District Attorney and get a lesser sentence in return for testimony against the other defendants.

Why would the District Attorney agree to make a deal with a defendant in a case? First of all, there may be a lack of evidence. In other words, the District Attorney can’t prove the case without one of the defendant’s help. Second, the District Attorney might see the case as one with different measures of responsibility such that it makes sense to give one or more of the defendants a deal because the defendant is a minor “player” in the case. Finally, if a case simply has too many defendants to efficiently prosecute in a timely manner one or more of the defendants could be allowed to testify against the remaining defendants. This eliminates one more roadblock to the District Attorney’s case.

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