Attorney Eric D. Puryear

Motions to Sever Multi-defendant Trials in Iowa Criminal Cases

Puryear Law » Legal Blog » Iowa Criminal Law » Motions to Sever Multi-defendant Trials in Iowa Criminal Cases

When there are multiple defendants charged with the same crime in Iowa, they can be charged as co-defendants in the same Trial Information, which is the formal charging document. If co-defendants are charged in the same Trial Information, then they will have a joint trial where they are all tried at the same time. In some cases, it may be best for a defendant to have co-defendants charged separately with separate trials. If so, the trial attorney may file a motion to sever the trials under the Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure. This type of motion must be filed within forty days of arraignment.


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The trial court has discretion on whether to sever multi-defendant trials. The general rule is that defendants charged together should be tried together unless a defendant would be prejudiced by a joint trial, and in that case, the defendants shall be tried separately. Severance of multi-defendant trials is warranted under the following circumstances: (1) if admission of evidence in a joint trial would have been inadmissible and prejudicial if a defendant was tried by himself or herself, (2) if a joint trial prevents one defendant from presenting exculpatory testimony of a co-defendant, (3) if consolidation will result in a trial of such complexity and length that the jury would not be able to effectively compartmentalize the evidence against each defendant, and (4) if defenses presented by different defendants conflict to the point of being not reconcilable and mutually exclusive.


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