The Complications of a Co-Defendant

If you have been arrested for allegedly committing a crime, you are already dealing with a complex and stressful situation. Even relatively simple cases with low-level charges can take months to resolve, especially if you choose to go to trial. However, just about any case can become substantially more complicated if you are also trying to defend yourself alongside a co-defendant. Here are just a few ways in which your legal defense could be made more difficult by the presence of a co-defendant:


  1. The choice to cooperate
    1. One of the most common situations where a person may be defending themselves along with a co-defendant is where a particular crime has been alleged, and two or more people are possible culprits. For example, if a car with multiple passengers is stopped and drugs are found, that can result in every person in the car being potentially charged with illegal possession of a controlled substance. If that happens, you need to be able to decide if cooperating with your other co-defendants is in your best interest.
  2. Playing the blame game
    1. If you choose not to cooperate with your co-defendants, it can then become an issue of where to assign blame for an alleged crime. This is particularly true if you are in a situation where your only plausible defense is to attempt to pin blame on someone else. At the same time, however, your co-defendants may be trying to pin the blame on you as well. If you are not careful, every co-defendant could implicate every other co-defendant, with no one escaping prosecution.
  3. A conspiracy of defendants
    1. A co-defendant in a case might not be accused of being one of several suspects for a single criminal act, but instead be accused of being a part of a criminal conspiracy. For example, in a bank robbery, every person involved in the robbery, including the lookout and the getaway driver, can all be implicated as part of the conspiracy, even if they never entered the bank themselves. This is a problem because anyone accused of being part of a criminal conspiracy can be held responsible for every crime committed by every other person involved in the conspiracy, significantly increasing the risk of incarceration for every co-defendant.
  4. Taking and sharing notes
    1. If you choose to cooperate with your co-defendants in your defense, you will likely be sharing information with them that you would normally be keeping confidential. In fact, you may all be defended by the same defense attorney or attorneys, with protective measures like attorney-client privilege dependent on maintaining that relationship. If that is the case, you need to be wary of what you disclose to your co-defendants, who may choose to use that privileged information against you later on.
  5. Going it alone
    1. The decision about whether to cooperate with your co-defendants is not necessarily a permanent one, and you can decide to join up with them or leave them as you see fit. However, keep in mind that leaving a cooperative defense to pursue your own interests can leave you at a disadvantage, especially if your co-defendant has been made privy to potentially incriminating information. This is why you should take decisions about maintaining a mutual defense or going solo very seriously.


If you or someone you know has been arrested for a criminal offense, you will need legal counsel to help you preserve your rights and work to get the best possible outcome for your matter. A New York criminal defense lawyer, who is experienced in handling criminal cases of all sorts, can advise you of your legal rights and will fight for your best interests in court. If you or your loved one has been arrested, contact the Suffolk County criminal defense attorneys at McGuire, Peláez and Bennett at (631) 348-1702.

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