Can a criminal defense lawyer represent co-defendants who may be charged in the commission of the same crime or series of crimes? The answer is a qualified, “Yes,” provided that there are no conflicts between the defendants that require the attorney to choose which client to more vigorously represent.
As a practical matter, it is rarely advisable for an attorney to represent co-defendants charged in the same crime or criminal conspiracy. The reason is that while it may not be apparent at the start of representation, conflicts can often develop.
For instance, if a prosecutor offers one co-defendant a favorable plea in order to testify against the other defendant, the two parties have been placed at odds and a conflict has created.
Or, perhaps, one person has given a statement to police that may tend to incriminate the other (or both) defendants. In that case, a Bruton issue exists and a single defense lawyer representing both defendants may be compromised.
In addition, attorney-client privilege is less secure when the attorney represents two criminal defendants in the same case, since, if one client confides information to an attorney that hurts that client, the attorney may be compromised and in a position where that information reaches the other client.
A conflict can be as simple as an issue related to mitigation – one defendant pressured another into doing a criminal act, or that the attorney needs to argue in sentencing that one defendant’s conduct was more egregious.
If you have a case in which you and a loved one may be charged, run, don’t walk, from the office of an attorney who says he can easily, ethically, and properly represent you both.