California Case Law on Joint Trial in Criminal Cases
Penal Code Section 1098 provides:
"When two or more defendants are jointly charged with any public offense, whether felony or misdemeanor, they must be tried jointly, unless the court orders separate trials. In ordering separate trials, the court in its discretion may order a separate trial as to one or more defendants, and a joint trial as to the others, or may order any number of the defendants to be tried at one trial, and any number of the others at different trials, or may order a separate trial for each defendant; provided, that where two or more persons can be jointly tried, the fact that separate accusatory pleadings were filed shall not prevent their joint trial."
Section 1098 ordinarily requires a joint charge against the defendants as a predicate to a joint trial. (People v. Ortiz (1978) 22 Cal.3d 38.)
However, the court in People v. Hernandez (1983) 143 Cal. App. 3d 936, 941 (Hernandez) explained there is an exception to this rule when defendants are "charged with a crime or series of crimes committed as part of a single transaction."
In People v. Hernandez (1983) 143 Cal. App. 3d 936, three defendants were charged with offenses arising out of a gang rape. One of the defendants, who was charged with two counts of rape, sought a separate trial because he was not jointly charged with the other defendant on any count. (Id. at pp. 938-939.)
The trial court denied the severance, and the court in Hernandez affirmed, concluding section 1098 did not bar a single trial for defendants who "jointly committed a series of crimes against the same victim at the same time and in the same place." (Id. at pp. 939-941.)
Hernandez reasoned that:
"The evil sought to be avoided by People v. Ortiz (1978) 22 Cal.3d 38 was the prejudicial impact of irrelevant evidence. In a joint trial of unrelated offenses, the jury would hear evidence concerning the conduct of defendant's associates, which evidence would not have been admissible in a separate trial. Citing Ortiz, supra. Here, of course, evidence concerning the conduct of all of the victim's assailants would have been admissible in either a joint or separate trial. Furthermore, a requirement of separate trials would subject the victim and all witnesses to the ordeal of two complete trials, with no attendant benefit to Perez. We therefore conclude that the Ortiz holding does not extend to defendants charged with a crime or series of crimes committed as part of a single transaction." (Id. at pp. 940-941.)
The court in People v. Wickliffe (1986) 183 Cal. App. 3d 37, followed People v. Hernandez, supra, 143 Cal. App. 3d 936 and held a joint trial of two defendants for crimes arising out of the same transaction was proper even though the defendants were charged with distinct offenses.
The Wickliffe court concluded that where the defendants are charged with distinct crimes but all of the charges arose out of the same transaction involving the same victim, the same evidence would be admitted at either a joint or a separate trial.
Accordingly, the prophylactic purpose of Ortiz, supra, 22 Cal.3d 38--to prevent a jury from being inflamed against a defendant by hearing about crimes with no connection to that defendant--had no application when the defendants are charged with crimes arising out of the same transaction involving the same victim, and therefore a joint trial was permitted. (Wickliffe, supra, at pp. 40-41.)