Michigan Court Discusses Joint Trials in Criminal Matters

Typically, criminal defendants are tried individually. The state is not precluded from trying numerous criminal defendants at one time, however. For example, if multiple people were allegedly engaged in the same course of criminal conduct, the prosecution may seek a joint trial. In a recent Michigan ruling, the court addressed when a joint trial is appropriate in a matter in which the defendant argued the trial court erred by denying his motion to sever. If you are accused of committing a crime, it is in your best interest to consult a Michigan criminal defense attorney to discuss your rights.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendants, a man, and a woman, robbed a store in Detroit. Specifically, the male defendant parked his car in the alley behind the store, while the female defendant went into the store, stole the victim’s sunglasses, and began to run. The victim chased the female defendant, and when he got close to the male defendant’s vehicle, the male defendant shot him.

Allegedly, both defendants were subsequently arrested and charged with armed robbery, assault, and other crimes. The male defendant filed a motion to sever the trials, arguing a joint trial was prejudicial to his defenses. The court denied his motion, and they were tried jointly before separate finders of fact and were both convicted. They appealed, and the male defendant argued in part that the trial court erred in denying his motion.

Joint Trials in Criminal Matters

The decision as to whether two criminal defendants should be tried jointly or separately is within the discretion of the trial court, and its decision will typically not be overruled absent an abuse of discretion. The appellate court elaborated that an abuse of discretion occurs when a decision falls outside of the realm of principled and reasonable outcomes.

The court explained that there is no unconditional right to separate trials, and the interests of justice and judicial administration, and economy favor the use of joint trials. In other words, joint trials help to avoid inconsistent verdicts and allow for a more accurate assessment of relative guilt, which in some instances will be beneficial to a defendant. Severance of criminal trials may be warranted in some cases, though, such as when the defendants’ defenses are antagonistic or mutually exclusive, and therefore a joint trial creates an unreasonable risk of prejudice. The appellate court found that no such risks were present in the subject case. Thus, it affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak to an Experienced Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

It is not uncommon for the courts to argue it is appropriate to try multiple criminal defendants at one time, but such trials may hinder a party’s potential defenses. If you are charged with a crime, it is in your best interest to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. Sam Bernstein of ArborYpsi Law is an experienced Michigan criminal defense lawyer with the knowledge and resources needed to help you seek a good result, and if you hire him, he will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact Mr. Bernstein via the form online or by calling (734) 883-9584 to set up a meeting.

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