Understanding Codefendants: Definition, Roles, and Legal Implications
As a law firm, we understand that legal jargon can be confusing. One term that we often hear questions about is “codefendant.” We all know a defendant is a person who has been accused of a crime in a criminal case, but how do they differ from codefendants?
When there are multiple people accused of the same crime, they are considered codefendants. Either these people jointly operated together to carry out some crime or the wrong person got picked up and mixed in with a group of people.
How are Codefendant Cases Handled?
Once we explain what codefendants are to clients, they often follow that up by asking us how we handle codefendant cases. For example, if four people are accused of robbing a liquor store do we represent all four of these people? In most cases, we don’t represent multiple codefendants because the main concern is there’s a conflict of interest between these four different defendants.
A lot of times what happens is people start playing the blame game, and if we were representing all four of these people, we would not be able to fully advocate for each one of these parties at the same level.
They have adverse interests, so we would essentially be in a position where we’re deciding who gets the worst punishment, and that’s not fair to us or the client.
Most importantly, defendants are entitled to effective assistance of counsel and zealous advocacy. Most of the time in these situations, you’ll see a different attorney for each person accused of the crime.
Every now and then, there will be a situation where we do represent multiple parties that have been accused of a crime, but this is very rare.
Representing Multiple Codefendants
While we rarely represent multiple codefendants in a case, it does happen sometimes. For this to happen, however, it must be a situation where we know both parties are not going to be blaming the other person. There are no obvious conflicts and they have signed off in writing that they understand that if a conflict arises, we are going to have to come off of the case.
Not only is it a concern about adverse interest, but it’s also a concern about confidentiality. We owe each client a duty of confidentiality and they have to waive, in writing, total confidentiality so we can communicate with the other co-defendant about perhaps an offer in the case or certain circumstances in the case that might affect them.
If that’s not something that they are able to do, we will not take the case. We will refer them to another criminal defense attorney that we think is capable of representing them to the fullest.
Difficulties with Codefendant Cases
Additionally, when the case does get set for trial or another event, some of the difficulty you run into with these cases is scheduling. The four different defendants and four different attorneys, all with different types of calendars going on, and trying to get them together on the same day for a trial or a hearing can be difficult. These types of cases often end up taking a little bit longer than normal single-defendant cases.