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Bob and Carl are both accused of the same murder of Alice. Are they supposed to

  1. be tried together as one party in a single trial?
  2. be separately tried in two simultaneous trials?
  3. be tried one after another?
  4. or what?

(2.) seems the most correct, as Bob and Carl are separate parties that may want different lawyers, etc.. But that also seems the most hairy path, since the crimes are obviously extremely related, and each case would rely heavily upon the other.

As a separate but related question: if an entire family/group are accused of crimes, are they all tried separately, simultaneously, or what?

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  • 1
    It’s comforting, at least, that Bob and Carl aren’t accused of separate murders of Alice… Mar 11, 2023 at 1:12
  • 5
    @JanusBahsJacquet kill me once, shame on you. Kill me twice, shame on me :^)
    – chausies
    Mar 11, 2023 at 3:31
  • I was a juror in a shared trial of form (1). (One defendant was found guilty, the other not) Mar 11, 2023 at 21:16
  • Does the prosecution allege that Bob and Carl both murdered Alice? Or that Bob hired Carl to carry out the hit? Or they aren't sure, but they know one of them dunnit? Mar 11, 2023 at 21:55

3 Answers 3

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In the U.S., one trial can be held for multiple co-defendants, though prosecutors and defense attorneys will have reasons for seeking separate trials (If only to avoid having a scene similar to the on in Dark Knight where Harvey Dent has about 50 mobsters caught in one RICO violation plus their lawyers and the judge's simple question of "How do you plea?" is met with a din of responses.).

The Defense's reason for this is that an individual may not have been a part of every step of the collective guilt and thus some charges might not be appropriate if it's an individual's guilt compared to a groups guilt. For example, the six police officers involved in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray at trial were all tried separately. The first trial was declared a mistrial over the hung jury, and two subsequent trial's resulted in findings of not guilty by a judge during a bench trial. The remaining individuals had charges dropped (The three officers who had yet to have trials plus the one officer whose trial resulted in a mistrial). One of the findings a running theme of the officers as individuals did nothing wrong, though had they been tried collectively, the results may have been different, since the individual trials meant certain facts couldn't be brought up as they didn't apply to the individual but did if they were tried as a group.

From a prosecutor's standpoint, separate trials mean that you can use one suspect against the other and make a deal for lighter charges in exchange for testimony against a partner in crime. The U.S. legal system does allow for plea deals between the defense and prosecution (and while it's not the only nation that allows this, it's one of the few where plea bargaining is not viewed as a "dirty" tactic and is openly embraced (U.S. attorneys tend to hate going to trial and will try to avoid it.). Prosecutors are not above offering immunity or granting lighter sentences in exchange for help in other cases, often in the form of testimony against the big fish. For a criminal who believes "snitches get stitches", an offer of flipping on your co-defendant for a sentence of 10 years, with parole in 5 is nothing to sneeze at when you're looking at 25 to life without parole for what you did. It's not immunity for testimony (typically, witnesses in plea bargains are not allowed to take the 5th with respect to questions on the stand because they will typically plea before the trial, and thus can't be prosecuted for the same crime.).

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  • Reading "RICO violation", I first thought they violated zoning laws governing residential, industrial, commercial and office distribution. (I then googled it (wikipedia), so no need to explain it, just thought it funny.) Mar 11, 2023 at 1:54
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"Ordinarily, persons alleged to be involved in a common enterprise should be jointly tried." R. v. Anderson-Wilson, 2010 ONSC 489 at para 65.

There are strong policy reasons for this principle: joint trials enhance the truth-finding exercise and preclude the possibility of inconsistent verdicts; they spare all those concerned, and ultimately the community, the expense (financial and emotional), inconvenience to witnesses, and institutional stress associated with multiple trials of the same issues.

R. v. Sarrazin, 2005 CanLII 11388 (Ont. C.A.) at para 59.

But an accused can apply to the court to be tried separately. Criminal Code, s. 591(3) gives the court discretion to order "that one or more of them be tried separately on one or more of the counts."

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There is another situation where a joint trial is relevant (I'm sorry I don't have a reference to this case: I encountered it years ago in a book by a retired Australian judge).

Defendants A, B, and C were off-duty servicemen, who had been drinking in a pub; defendants D, E, F, G were drinking in the same pub, and took a dislike to Abel, Baker, and Charlie. After an exchange of insults, and maybe the odd punch, Abel, Baker, and Charlie drove off in their car, pursued by David, Eric, Frankie, and George. At some point they collided with another vehicle, killing at least one innocent third party, Zelda.

Abel, Baker, and Charlie were clearly in the wrong, as they were speeding, and either driving on the wrong side of the road or through a red light (I have forgotten). The obvious defence was that they were fleeing in fear for their lives. Their lawyer felt that any red-blooded juror would insist on someone being punished for Zelda's death, so he argued that Abel, Baker, Charlie, David, Eric, Frankie, and George be jointly tried; naturally David, Eric, Frankie, and George's lawyer argued unsuccessfully for separate trials.

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