Joinder and Severance

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

In the context of criminal law, “joinder” and “severance” play pivotal roles in pretrial procedures. Joinder refers to the inclusion of multiple defendants or multiple charges in a single trial. On the other hand, severance is the action of separating combined defendants or charges into distinct trials.

Joinder in Criminal Cases

The concept of joinder in criminal cases can be divided into two main categories: joinder of defendants and joinder of offenses. These legal terms may seem complex at first, but let’s break them down to understand their meaning and implications better.

First, let’s explore the joinder of defendants. This term is used when multiple individuals are involved in the same crime or series of related crimes. For example, if three people are accused of participating in a bank robbery together, they may all be joined as defendants in a single trial. This process ensures that the same evidence, witnesses, and legal arguments are presented at one time, saving both court resources and time. Thus, joinder of defendants leads to more efficient handling of cases where several individuals are accused of committing the same or related offenses.

On the other hand, we have the joinder of offenses. This form of joinder occurs when one person is accused of committing several crimes that are related to the same event or series of events. For instance, if an individual is accused of stealing a car and then using that car to commit a robbery, these two charges might be joined together in a single trial. By combining these charges, the court can prevent the need for multiple trials. This approach not only saves time but also reduces the burden on witnesses and the accused, who would otherwise have to participate in multiple court proceedings.

In summary, joinder in criminal cases, whether of defendants or offenses, is a procedural tool used by courts to manage cases more effectively. It aims to balance efficiency and fairness in the legal process, ensuring that all related matters are dealt with in a single proceeding when appropriate.

The Principle of Severance in Criminal Cases

While joinder can enhance the efficiency of the legal process, it isn’t always the best approach. That’s when severance comes into play. Severance involves separating defendants or charges that were initially joined for trial.

Severance is often requested when a judge determines that the joined parties or charges may prejudice the jury or inhibit a fair trial. For instance, if one defendant’s actions are significantly more severe than the others’, the defendants may be severed to ensure each receives a fair trial. Similarly, if one charge could potentially prejudice the jury against a defendant on another charge, a judge may sever the charges.

Joinder and Severance in Action

Joinder and severance serve as tools to balance the efficiency and fairness of the legal process. They allow courts to manage criminal cases effectively and ensure that each defendant receives a fair trial. These procedures are governed by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which provide guidelines for their application in federal courts.

Understanding the role and application of joinder and severance in criminal cases is crucial for grasping how multiple defendants or charges are managed. The ultimate goal is to ensure a fair, efficient, and just process. Both procedures are utilized judiciously, always keeping the best interests of justice in mind.


In the criminal law landscape, the concepts of “joinder” and “severance” are fundamental to pretrial procedures. Joinder involves combining multiple defendants or multiple charges into a single trial, promoting efficiency in court proceedings. This strategy is employed when multiple individuals are involved in the same crime or a single person is charged with multiple offenses related to a single event.

Despite its efficiency, joinder isn’t always suitable. Severance, the process of separating defendants or charges initially joined for trial, is employed to ensure fairness. This technique is used when a joint trial could bias the jury or hinder a fair trial.

In essence, joinder and severance function as balancing tools in the legal process, aiding courts in managing criminal cases effectively. Both mechanisms aim to ensure a just process, enhancing efficiency while prioritizing fair trials for each defendant. Understanding these procedures is crucial for comprehending how the justice system handles multiple defendants or charges.


Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  07/27/2023

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