Can two people be convicted of the same crime?

The Pareto Brothers, darlings of the identical twin freak show circuit, become the prime suspects when their mother is killed. There are no prints, the DNA evidence implicates both of them equally, and both siblings had equal means, motive, and opportunity to commit the crimes, not to mention matching suspicious wounds consistent with the other evidence. Therefore, because blood is thicker than game theory and talk shows pay more for a matched set, they both keep their mouths shut entirely and they both walk free.

OK, that assumes we’re in Logic Land, where even the lyingist guards don’t stab you in the face for asking tricksy questions. In the real world, law is the handmaiden of justice and it seems obvious that someone would have to get popped for this rap, especially since there’s enough evidence to convict any only child. I’m pretty sure the state would put forth a theory that they conspired to commit the murder and are, therefore, both guilty of at least that much.

But that seems like a mere prequel: They’re both equally morally culpable of the actual homicide, so is it possible to convict them both of that even if the state could never prove which one actually did the Big Job?

(Hurry, now: The Orient Express is boarding… )

The basic rule in Western legal systems is that you are innocent until proven guilty, so if there is absolutely no way of proving who, of two suspects, committed the crime you have to let both go.

A real example from Germany where they could not:

In the early morning of 25 January 2009 and again in the early morning of 26 January, three burglars entered the KaDeWe department store in Berlin in a Rififi-style heist and stole what was severally reported as 4 of 5 million euro’s worth of jewelry (they had to enter two times because the loot was that heavy).

The only usable evidence was a drop of sweat dropped by one of the burglars. DNA analysis showed it was from one of two identical twins, Hassan and Abbas O.

But it could not be determined from which one. They went free.

Their comment.

tschild: Fascinating! Who would have thought real identical twins would oblige us all by having such criminal proclivities.

Not both twins. Just the evil one.

Well, I’m sure that, with the Pareto brothers, one is 80% evil and the other just 20% evil.

So you convict the one with the goatee. Duh.

Is this why criminal masterminds are always so keen on getting themselves cloned?

Of course. Dolly was evil in spite of her meek appearance.

About the OP. There is an actual case in Sweden when a house owner was murdered during a break-in. The two burglars accused each other and there was no way the prosecution could prove who actually held the frying pan used, so they were both acquitted from the murder charge. IIRC the prosecutor also tried to get them both for accessory to murder if the murder charge failed, but I don’t remember if he succeeded in that.

I’ve often wonder what would happen if one conjoined twin was found co,iting murder. His twin can prove that he did npt know what his conjoinws brother was going to do.

How could they lock up the guilty one without punishing the innocent one?

If tried separately and convincingly beyond a reasonable doubt, sure. Illogical, but not illegal.

I don’t have a cite for this but I recall hearing about a prosecutor in Louisiana who in separate trials, got the death penalty for two persons accused of the same murder. No word on whether they were twins.



There was a fun Law & Order episode along these lines. Two guys are arrested for shooting a dude during a carjacking. Each one says the other one pulled the trigger, and there’s enough evidence to convict either one of the crime.

So Hang 'em High McCoy moves to sever the trial and tries each guy separately (and simultaneously) for the same murder, knowing that only one of them could be guilty. They were both convicted.

I don’t know the true legal situation, but my impression is that:

  • If they both did the crime (say, they both hit her over the head, and then she died) they can both be guilty of it
  • If they both planned to commit the crime, and one of them actually did the hitting, but both were equally involved, they may well be equally morally culpable, and even if its known which is which, they may both get the same sentence
  • If one committed the crime, and the other consipired to cover it up afterwards, the second one may be less culpable, and it matters if they can prove which is which. IMHO, if they can prove one did it, but not which (and not that the other one helped them) then neither is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, so according to standard legal rights, both should be released
  • There are some ways of working round the previous, as I discovered reading the answers above, which generally rely on implying the other would have done it and is moderately culpable. (I have less sympathy for someone who went along on an armed robbery when his partner shot someone that someone who was innocent but looked like the robber!)

This last is related to an interesting question I raised previously. If you can prove that John is guilty EITHER of crime X (murder) OR of crime Y (conspiracy to pervert the course of justice) can John be convinced and sentenced to the lesser of the two sentences? I couldn’t find anyone really talking about this, but found a couple of tax-evasion cases where it happened (and obviously many where the prosecution didn’t try).

Of course, you might also be able to give them immunity from the lesser crime, and then question them under threat of contempt of court, requiring them either to implicate their brother, confess the murder, or be in contempt.

Ha! My first reaction to the thread was to refer to that exact episode! But I couldn’t quite remember the details so I did a newspaper search instead.

I’ve heard that Chang & Eng, the original Siamese twins, were accused of a serious assault. One was convicted, the other acquitted. Because it was unthinkable to imprison an innocent man, the Judge had to let them both go.

Under Minnesota law, if someone is killed during the commission of a felony, any and all persons who participated in the crime can be charged with murder. Including cases where the cops shoot & kill one of the criminals – the other criminals can then be charged with murder.

Any competent prosecutor would file enough charges to make sure there was something the jury could convict on. Like murder, conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, assault, etc.

But surely that is not surprising – twins, especially identical ones, are known to have similar interests, traits, sexual orientation, etc. This is true even when they are separated at birth & raised in different families. So you would expect similar criminal tendencies in twins.

Convicting either one would be Pareto-optimal.