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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.

Get Help from The Nieves Law Firm

If you find yourself in a possible co-defendant case in the Bay Area or Sacramento, feel free to give us a call. Call today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.

Author Bio

Jo-Anna Nieves is the Founder and Managing Attorney of The Nieves Law Firm, an Oakland criminal defense law firm she created in 2012. With more than 11 years of experience in criminal defense, she has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including DUIs, domestic violence, expungement, federal crimes, juvenile law, motions to vacate, sex crimes, violent crimes, and other criminal charges.

Jo-Anna received her Juris Doctor from the Florida State University College of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named a Super Lawyer Rising Star the past 8 years, the #12 Fastest Growing Law Firm in the U.S. by Law Firm 500 in 2019, and one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. by Inc 5000 in 2023.

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