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I apologize if the question is a bit vague but I was hoping a general answer might help people in the future.

My wife and I were recently charged in a municipal case that involved a co-owned property (in this case, an animal, and as much as I love my pets I expect these rules should apply to non-living items as well). The statement of offence, however, only named my wife in the case, so I was prohibited from being involved. She asked the prosecuting attorney if I could be considered a co-defendant and was told this was not allowed.

I'm concerned she may have been misled by the prosecutor (we are not lawyers) and if maybe we should have waited to specifically ask the judge at the trial. I would have preferred to be able to make some of our case directly, or at the very least be in the room so we can confer notes.

A specific answer would be appreciated, but a general sense of how this should work (or how one should approach it) would also be great.

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As co-owners of something, you are jointly and severally liable. That means the prosecutor has the discretion to charge all or any (or no) owners. They chose to charge your wife only.

Notwithstanding, every person is responsible for their own offences: even if charges were laid against both of you you are each tried independently and each acquitted or convicted independently. Courts have discretion to hear cases together but they are not required to.

@Wolfgang wrote:

This sounds like they could charge us twice. Once for myself and for my wife. Additionally, would it not require them to clarify any kind of prenuptial or postnuptial arrangements that have been made in terms of ownership? Finally, how would this not violate section 2e of the bill of rights, a right to a fair hearing? How can the prosecution choose who represents me at a trial, but co-owners cant choose who is allowed to represent? Thank you for the answer, of course, but even in a general sense this seems like it could lead to a variety of unethical "divide and conquer" tactics.

You seem to misunderstand:- she committed an offence by not controlling the animal and you committed an offence by not controlling the animal too, since you both own it you both have a duty to keep it under control. They can charge her once and you once - if 2 people rob a bank they can charge both, either or none of them too.

These are offences against the state not civil wrongs, so whatever contractutal arrangements you have (pre-nups etc.) can not absolve or indemnify either of you from liability.

She has been charged and you havn't. She is entitled to a hearing. She can choose to be represented by a lawyer or represent herself. If you are a lawyer, that can be you. If you aren't a lawyer, it can't be you.

  • This sounds like they could charge us twice. Once for myself and for my wife. Additionally, would it not require them to clarify any kind of prenuptial or postnuptial arrangements that have been made in terms of ownership? Finally, how would this not violate section 2e of the bill of rights, a right to a fair hearing? How can the prosecution choose who represents me at a trial, but co-owners cant choose who is allowed to represent? Thank you for the answer, of course, but even in a general sense this seems like it could lead to a variety of unethical "divide and conquer" tactics. – Wolfgang May 31 '18 at 2:30
  • Well, I guess I don't have to like it to select the answer. If anyone else comes across this, I think a lot of my confusion came from the difference between ownership (of assets) and guardianship (of animals). The definitions can vary significantly between districts, and in some cases the guardian of an animal may even include people who are not the owners (eg pet-sitters, landlords). In addition to this answer here its something to consider in these situations. – Wolfgang May 31 '18 at 18:38

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