Grounds For A Severance Motion In A California Criminal Case
Severance motions are motions where lawyers are trying to sever one defendant away from another to sever on case away from another. Usually, in criminal defense, you’re going to see the defense attorney trying to do this.
The prosecutors don’t usually try to do that. The prosecutors are usually trying to consolidate cases and move them together so they can try them all at the same time. I’ve done a lot of severance motions over the course of the last twenty-five years.
Argument of Prejudice of Client’s Case
When it comes to trying to sever defendants, basically you’re going to have to mount some sort of an argument that says, by having this defendant with my client, it’s going to prejudice my client’s case. Maybe that defendant has a bunch of other cases that are tagging along with him, and those cases are going to make both defendants look bad, so why do I want to have this defendant with me.
Another argument would be that by having this other defendant it is going to be way too time-consuming. There’s too much evidence related to this other defendant, so there’s no way I want this defendant with me because we’re going to be sitting in court for two to three weeks, whereas if you just tried me alone, it would be a three or four-day trial.
One of the better arguments that a lot of times works to sever two defendants is – let’s say the other defendant made a statement that hurts both you and them, but that statement is hearsay as to you and can’t come in unless the other defendant testifies and it’s unlikely the other defendant is going to testify – now we have a problem.
Now you have a good argument to be severed away from this guy because I don’t want his statement coming in against me. It’s hearsay. It can come in against him as an admission, but it’s not going to come in against me.
So, a lot of times, depending on the circumstances and how many statements are made, the judge will grant that severance and let the two cases be tried separately.
Or, what I’ve seen them do is empanel two juries and both juries sit there and listen to the evidence as to both, this way the prosecutors don’t have to put on two cases. They can put on one case to two juries, and then when it comes time for the statement to come in by the co-defendant, the jury for you would be dismissed and wouldn’t hear that statement.
That way, that jury wouldn’t consider that statement against you. So, that’s another way to effectively deal with statements by co-defendants and not having to sever the case in a Los Angeles court.
Grounds To Be Able To Sever A Case
One ground is basically you argue that by trying these multiple or two defendants together, it’s going to prejudice my client. My client is not going to get a fair trial. We’re really talking about a fair child here and if having more than one defendant tried together somehow prejudices a defendant unfairly, then that would be a good argument to try to defend the case and try to defend it separately.
If on the other hand, the prosecutors are able to mount the argument that it’s not going to prejudice the other defendant – it might take longer – but this way the court doesn’t have to do multiple trials on the same subject matter, bringing in the same witnesses, wasting court time and inconveniencing the witnesses, then the courts are always going to side on judicial economy, doing the cases together unless the defense can come up with a good argument why somehow it’s going to have some judicial or spill-over effect if the severance is not granted.
Example of a Five Defendant Case
I recently did a case where I basically filed a double severance motion. One, I wanted to sever my client away from five other defendants because the other five defendants had a bunch of issues, statements that they made, evidence that was going to come in against them, gang-affiliated evidence – and that was all going to hurt my client and prejudice him.
I also wanted to sever separated cases. The prosecutors were trying to try my client on three different cases all occurring at different times, and basically, that’s where you start to get into the spill-over effect, to be able to say listen, you can’t just mount a bunch of cases against the guy and hopes that one of them sticks.
If you have a good case against them, try it by itself, and if you have to try one, two, three cases separately, then so be it, but it’s not fair to just have a bunch of cases against one guy that didn’t all occur at the same time, so the jury says, this guy must be guilty of something because he has like two or three cases against him. How would he have these two or three cases against him if he wasn’t guilty of something?
That’s not fair. That’s going to have a spill-over effect and that would be a good argument to sever separate cases against one defendant away from each other and make the prosecutors try those cases separately.
Call us for Help
So again, if you have a severance issue in one of the Los Angeles country courts – I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years. Come in and sit down with me. We’ll go over it and lay everything out on the table and I’ll give you a fair assessment as to whether or not your severance motion is likely to be granted or denied by the judge. Contact our California criminal defense attorneys to review your case.
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