If a criminal defendant is charged with multiple offenses stemming from different incidents, the State will often try the defendant separately for each event. In some instances, though, the State may join multiple indictments for trial. While this is generally permissible, it may be barred in certain circumstances. Recently, a New Jersey court discussed when multiple indictments can be combined at trial, in a case in which the defendant was charged with two separate acts of shoplifting. If you are accused of committing one or more crimes, it is critical to retain an aggressive New Jersey criminal defense attorney who will fight to protect your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant took merchandise from a video game store in January of 2014. Then, in September 2015, he reportedly stole merchandise from a second video game store. The police used surveillance footage from the second incident to investigate both crimes, after which the defendant was indicted for two separate counts of third-degree shoplifting, one for each incident.

The State moved to join the indictments for trial, arguing in part that evidence relating to each crime would be admissible in both trials if the cases were tried separately. The court granted the motion, and the defendant was convicted of third-degree and fourth-degree shoplifting. He appealed, arguing in part that the joinder of the indictments for trial was improper as the evidence of either event would not have been admissible if there were separate hearings.

Combining Indictments for Trial

Under the New Jersey rules of criminal procedure, a court may order multiple indictments to be tried together if they could have been joined in a single indictment. In other words, if the offenses charged are of the same or similar character or are based on the same act or transaction. They may also be tried together if they arise out of 2 or more acts that are connected because they constitute parts of a common plan or scheme.

Even if joinder is allowed, however, a defendant may seek relief such as separate trials if such joinder would be prejudicial. The rule notes that there is a danger that when several crimes are tried together, the jury may use the evidence cumulatively or may use evidence of one crime to infer that a defendant had the propensity to commit crimes, resulting in an unjust conviction. In the subject case, the court found there was no error committed in joining the indictments. Specifically, the evidence in each crime was relevant to the other, the crimes were similar in kind, and the probative value was not outweighed by the risk of prejudice. Thus, the defendant’s convictions were affirmed.

Meet with a Seasoned New Jersey Attorney

Criminal defendants have numerous rights under the law, including the right to a fair trial. If you are charged with shoplifting or another criminal offense, you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. The criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are proficient at defending people charged with crimes, and we can aid you in the pursuit of a just outcome. Contact us at 877-450-8301 or via the form online to schedule a conference.