Why Would A Defendant Petition for a Change of Venue?
Change of venue is defined by the Judicial Council of California as the transfer of a legal action from one county to another county for trial. A defendant or court official can file a petition for a change of venue if it is believed that a defendant cannot receive a fair trial in a given county for reasons such as:
Pretrial publicity: Media coverage of criminal trials has the power to impact a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury. If a criminal case receives enough media attention, whether it be on a state, national, or international scale, then prospective jurors could form their opinions on a case before it goes to trial. As a result, a defendant may not receive the fair trial that they are entitled to.
It’s not as easy as you may think to get a change of venue granted, however. A judge may consider whether or not a case received media attention altogether in addition to other possible factors, including:
- The frequency of the publicity
- The timeline of the publicity
- The type of publicity
- The demographics and psychographics of the audience exposed to the publicity
Bias: Prospective jurors could form biases based on what they see and hear. Unfortunately, people can’t always control what they see and hear. As human beings, this is natural and to be expected. With this in mind, media coverage is a primary factor that helps formulate biases in people’s minds, while word-of-mouth from family, friends, and peers is another significant factor. It’s difficult to steer away from these sources no matter how badly a person wants to remain impartial.
It’s important to understand that the law does not require prospective jurors to be unbiased about a defendant’s case in order to be permitted to serve as a juror. Instead, judges or lawyers will ask prospective jurors if they know anything about a case, or experienced things that may cause them to be unbiased or unfair. This process is called voir dire, meaning “to speak the truth.”
Political atmosphere: Political interests and beliefs vary across cities, states, and countries. As such, the political climate and culture of a given county may impact a defendant’s right to an impartial jury. If a venue is located in a county that is predominantly Republican (“red”), then a case concerning abortion or homosexual-related matters may be eligible for a change of venue to best protect against an impartial jury.
For example, a defendant being tried for burning down an abortion clinic or committing battery against a person for being homosexual may receive a more favorable verdict in a “red” county than in a predominantly Democratic (“blue”) county. This is because jurors in a “red” county possibly have a higher likelihood of affiliating with the Republican party and thus believing that abortions and homosexuality should be forbidden. On the other hand, if a defendant was tried for unlawfully possessing a firearm in a “blue” county, they may receive a more unfavorable verdict than if their venue was located in a “red” county.
Another example is when a defendant is being tried for a capital felony that is punishable by the death penalty. If the defendant is being tried in a “red” county, there is a chance that the jury pool may be predisposed in favor of the death penalty while the jury pool in a “blue” county may have a higher chance of being against the death penalty.
The bottom line is that no matter what the political atmosphere in a given county is, a petition for a change of venue may be necessary to preserve a defendant’s right to an impartial jury.
Location of witness(es): Some states such as California may allow for a change of venue if it is convenient for witnesses or parties who reside elsewhere. However, the inconvenience must be of a significant and substantial magnitude for a court to consider granting a change of venue for this reason alone.
Questions? You’ve Come to the Right Place.
Our Fresno criminal defense lawyer understands that the stakes are high. When your freedom and future are on the line, every detail of your case matters, including the jurors, media attention, and location of witnesses. That’s why if you retain our representation, you can depend on us to identify and evaluate those details before working to minimize their impacts on your case.
If you are facing charges or need clarifying answers to your questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at (559) 484-2112 to schedule a free consultation. We are here for you!