Our criminal defense law firm defends individuals charged with crimes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In most situations the case is heard at a trial within the county in which the criminal allegations occurred. There are situations, however, where a Motion for Change of Venue is necessary to ensure that the case is heard in the best location.
What are the requirements for a court to consider a change of venue?
There are two (2) requirements that a Court would require for such a Motion. First, the Court hearing the Motion for Change of Venue, must have the authority to decide the case. This is usually easily satisfied as the Prosecutor or the District Attorney would not have pursued the case if it was not within their jurisdiction.
The second requirement is for the Court to determine if the particular location is the best location to hear a case. In most situations, only one party wants to change venue and that party is responsible for filing a Motion requesting the change. Most jurisdictions have very specific and strict requirements for the Motion. The moving party must lay out all the grounds and arguments as to why the venue should be changed.
You have a constitutional right to a fair trial but not a change of venue
In a criminal case, someone accused of a crime has the absolute right to a fair trial by an impartial jury. The defendant, however, does not have the right to a trial in a county of their choice. Lack of jury impartiality, however, can occur if the defense can show that there is a reasonable likelihood that the defendant cannot receive a fair trial due to pre-trial publicity or some other event which makes it almost impossible to find an impartial jury.
Negative pre-trial publicity is the most common reason for a change of venue. The defense lawyer must show that the publicity was severe enough that it affects the ability to find an impartial jury.
To obtain a change of venue due to publicity the defense attorney must show that the media coverage cause actual prejudice in prospective juror’s minds. It isn’t enough for the defense to show that a few jurors would be bias, but rather the defense must show that publicity has tainted the entire jury pool.
What is Voir Dire?
During voir dire, attorneys on both sides (prosecution (District Attorney) and defense) ask whether jurors can set aside any opinions that they have formed from publicity and decide the case on the in-court evidence. While most jurors will say that they can, a Judge must and should provide the attorneys the opportunity to probe further.
A Court may consider the following factors to determine whether or not prospective jurors are bias despite their answers to the questions regarding their impartiality:
- Frequency of publicity whether the publicity has been objective toward the defendant.
- The recency of the publicity.
- Size and character of the community exposed to publicity.
A Judge will also review articles, broadcasts, and take any other information into account before ultimately deciding on a Motion for Change of Venue. It is important to understand that the ability to change venue is not a constitutional right even though it is related to one. This means that if a defendant does not move for a change of venue, he or she waives the right to do so on appeal.
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