Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 11.51 v. The Client Was Charged Jointly With 1 or More Codefendants

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If the client was arrested with one or more others (even if they were not charged in the same charging paper or court), or if there are one or more codefendants, the chances of obtaining post-conviction relief are increased significantly.


                First, there are others, in addition to the client, who may in fact have been culpable instead of the client.  For example, if drugs are found under the front seat of a car with a driver and one passenger, who owned the drugs?  It is possible that one person is guilty and the other innocent.


                Second, many more legal errors are possible if there are codefendants because the proceedings become more complicated.  For instance, it proved possible to vacate a 1980 felony marijuana-cultivation conviction because one lawyer represented both husband and wife in the same criminal case, thus triggering an active conflict of interest.[303]   Similarly, where two or more defendants are offered a “package deal” in which both must accept their individual offers or neither can, the potential for one defendant to coerce another to plead guilty may be great.  The trial court taking the plea therefore has an obligation to determine whether this was a package deal, and, if it was, to inquire thoroughly into the possibility of coercion.[304]   It was possible to vacate a plea upon proof that a codefendant (who had since been deported) threatened the innocent defendant, thereby forcing him to take responsibility for possession for sale of the codefendant’s drugs.


                There are interesting questions relating to the admissibility of the statements of one defendant against another.[305]  This also leads to questions of the propriety of trying two defendants jointly.  Where a court takes a plea from several defendants at the same time, the chances mount that the court will violate some procedural requirement. 


[303] See Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 348, 100 S.Ct. 1708, 1718 (1980); Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 61, 62 (1942).

[304] In re Ibarra, 34 Cal.3d 277, 193 Cal.Rptr. 538 (1983) (package deal coercive unless affirmative showing of voluntariness on the record at the plea); see United States v. Martinez-Molina, 64 F.3d 719 (9th Cir. 1995); United States v. Caro, 997 F.3d 657 (9th Cir. 1993).

[305] See Lee v. Illinois, 476 U.S. 530, 106 S.Ct. 2056 (1986) (codefendant’s confession inadmissible against defendant as hearsay and by force of Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause); Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968) (defendant has right to exclude codefendant’s confession from joint trial if it mentions and explicitly incriminates the defendant, but does not bar admission of codefendant’s confession that does not mention defendant).