White-collar criminal cases often involve the arrest and charging of multiple people for the same offense(s). However, not everyone may have the same level of culpability. Some may have very little or even none.
So, what if you find yourself charged with one or more other people and potentially facing trial with them? Can you separate or “sever” your case from theirs so that your defense is considered separately?
What does New York law say?
The laws around severance vary by state. Under New York law, a defendant can seek to sever their case if they have “good cause.” One example would be if “a defendant…will be unduly prejudiced by a joint trial” because….a particular defendant’s comparatively minor role in it creates a likelihood of prejudice to him.” The court “may order a severance of claims, or may order a separate trial of any claim, or of any separate issue.”
Presenting a case for severance
Anyone who asks for severance because they believe the jury and/or the court will be “unduly prejudiced” against them because of the alleged actions of other defendants needs to come prepared with evidence and a solid case for severance. Prosecutors typically charge multiple defendants together because they have evidence that they were involved in the same criminal activity.
This can occur without people working directly with one another or even knowing each other. However, the fact that you might have had little or no contact with your co-defendants typically isn’t enough on its own to sever your case.
When multiple people are charged with an alleged crime together, it often soon becomes “every man or woman for themselves.” It’s crucial to look after your own rights and your future. Don’t let them be tied to anyone else if you don’t have to.
A motion to sever needs to be made before the trial begins. Having experienced legal guidance from the beginning can give you the best opportunity to defeat the charges you face.