This is an interesting question that comes up a lot in criminal defense in Los Angeles, and probably all over California and all over the nation. Sometimes defendants will get caught for crimes. If there's one, two, three, four, five or more defendants that are involved, the police will start talking to them and sometimes defendants get scared and they start talking. So, the question comes up if one defendant makes an incriminating statement that incriminates them and another defendant, are the prosecutors allowed to use that statement. Here in Los Angeles at the preliminary hearing, the prosecutors can use a co-defendant's statement against another defendant to hold that defendant to answer; I don't know why. It doesn't make sense to me. It's ridiculous. You almost never get a chance to cross-examine that defendant, so it doesn't seem fair, but that's what the rules are.
Defendant Must Testify at Trial
However, that same statement cannot be used at a trial unless that defendant testifies. So, if they have a great statement where a defendant is saying hey, me and peewee committed the crime and I don't know why we did it, we shouldn't have done it, they can use that statement to get peewee into the trial court. But, when it comes time to do the trial, the defendant that made that statement – that statement is going to come in against them and it's going to help convict them because he said me and peewee committed the crime.
However, peewee's defense attorney is going to say, no, no, no, that can't come in because I have a right to confront whoever made that statement so if that defendant doesn't testify, the statement can't come in. It's called a Miranda Bruton Problem and that statement is not going to come in unless the defendant who made it actually testifies and that happens sometimes.
Sometimes that defendant will get up in his or her own defense and they'll try to say no, I'm guilty. It was peewee's fault, or no, it was somebody else's fault and then of course, the prosecutor is going to say wait a minute – why did you say you and peewee did it if you're innocent, and now peewee's attorney is going to go, come on now, but peewee's attorney is going to get a chance to cross-examine that defendant and say, why did you have to include peewee in on the statement. Just be responsible for your own activities! So, this is what we call a Miranda Bruton Problem. There're a lot of ways to solve this problem where a co-defendant's statement is going to be used against them but shouldn't be used against another defendant.
Separate Jury Trials
Sometimes the judges in Los Angeles will sever the case so the two defendants get separate jury trials. Then you don't have the problem. The statement against the one guy is not going to come in against peewee, because peewee won't be in the trial. Another thing I've seen them do because they don't want to do two trials and have to bring all the witnesses in there. It's a big waste of time and energy and court space in Los Angeles, which is very valuable in a criminal case, so what they'll do is they'll empanel two juries and when peewee's jury will not be inside the courtroom while the statement of the co-defendant comes in, so that statement will come in.
The co-defendant's jury will hear that and convict the co-defendant because he admitted it, but peewee's jury will not hear that if the guy is not going to testify. So, in that situation, the one defendant will be safe from that statement coming in against him and they can just defend themselves. And that's the way it should be.
Why should you be responsible for somebody else's statement because they got scared because they admitted things against themselves. Why do they have to lump you in there with him. It's not fair and that's why we've got that protect, that unless the person testified, the statement's not coming in against the co-defendant.
So, if you've got one of these situations where a co-defendant's been talking and saying a bunch of stuff, get to an attorney. I've been doing this for twenty-five years. We'll talk about it. I've litigated about two hundred jury trials at both the state and federal levels, the juvenile level, so I know how to handle these cases. I know what to do about these statements and you have to have an expert in there if you want to get the best result in your criminal case in Los Angeles, especially when a co-defendant starts talking.