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More than half of federal criminal defendants are charged with multiple offenses in a single indictment. These defendants are more likely to be convicted on at least one charge than defendants who receive separate trials for each charge. Joinder has been both lauded for increasing the efficiency of the federal criminal justice system and criticized for unfairly prejudicing criminal defendants. Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 8(a) and 14 govern the joinder of offenses in the federal system. Rule 8(a) permits offenses of the “same or similar character” to be joined against a single defendant while Rule 14 allows district courts to sever the offenses if joinder “appears to prejudice a defendant.” The circuit courts have taken divergent views of when offenses are of the “same or similar character” and thus properly joined together. Two general approaches have emerged among the circuits, with roughly half taking a categorical approach to Rule 8(a)’s same-orsimilar-character prong, which requires offenses to be simply of “like class.” The remaining circuits, on the other hand, employ a holistic approach. These courts apply multifactored tests to examine the charges for similarity, including whether the offenses are connected by time or evidence and involve similar statutory elements or victims. The holistic approach’s more rigorous analysis under the sameor-similar-character prong results in fewer combinations of offenses joined.

This Comment resolves the circuit split over the same-or-similar-character prong by examining the history, functions, and purposes of Rules 8(a) and 14. It argues that the holistic approach is superior to the categorical, as it better fulfills the intent of the rules’ drafters, better accounts for the procedural and practical realities of the rules, and better meets joinder’s efficiency goals while minimizing its risk of prejudice.

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