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Keeping one eye on the front door, another on the back door and another on the trap door: Trying multidefendant cases

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All trials on behalf of criminal defendants have their own challenges and opportunities.

Here are some significant challenges that will or might come the way of a criminal defense lawyer in a multidefendant case:

– The co-defendants’ lawyers must find as much harmonious effort as possible in reaching consensus on which potential jurors to strike, trial strategy, and leadership roles. 

– A lawyer needs to minimize and fix gaffes coming from less able, experienced, prepared, and/or caring co-defense counsel, or ones taking excessive risks without thinking it through.

– Watch out for unnecessarily abrasive or kowtowing lawyers. Have a plan for what to do with overly cramped defense tables, including asking for a larger courtroom or the addition of more tables. 

>- Overcrowded defense counsel tables make for more difficulty talking confidentially to one’s client in the courtroom.

– Beware damagingly inconsistent case theories among the defense lawyers.

– Be ready for judges requiring the lawyers to divide the labor of cross exam, rather than having much repetition in cross examination.

– A huge pretrial issue in dealing with co-defendants’ lawyers is the risk that one or more co-defendants, pretrial, will cut a deal  with the prosecution and testify against my client.

– When I ask a co-defendant’s counsel to consider refraining from a damaging line of cross-exam, will s/he refrain or vindictively repeat the behavior?

– In a two-defendant cocaine felony trial, the co-defendant’s lawyer started each police cross exam with "Thanks for choosing public service." Ouch. Such thanks countered creating the idea that this cop is the wrong one to be on the force, because his testimony is inaccurate, false or sloppy. During a break, the lawyer told an observer that he always starts cross exams of cops that way. Ouch, ouch, ouch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Judges routinely prefer to try co-defendants together, for judicial efficiency. It is great when each defendant hires a very competent and caring lawyer. However, that is not always the case. A key is to minimize the fallout from the dangerous and underpeforming lawyers as much as possible.