Saturday, January 29, 2011

Motion for a Change of Venue in Criminal Cases

This past week, various news reports have indicated that, at least for now, prosecutors and defense lawyers in the federal case of accused murderer Jared Lee Loughner have agreed that his case may remain in Tucson, Arizona, where the highly publicized attempted murder of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, along with the tragic murders of others, including a federal judge and a precious little girl, recently occurred.  Venue had originally been moved to Phoenix, but apparently both parties agreed to the transfer back to Tucson, at least for now, in order to accomodate the attorneys and witnesses during pretrial proceedings.  As a former federal prosecutor, (and currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense attorney), I would be shocked if the trial of this case is not ultimately moved again to another city.  Don't you agree?  
But the question remains:  When is it appropriate for a criminal defense attorney to file a motion for a change of venue?  Believe it or not, in Georgia, the standard is not simply whether or not there has been a lot of news media attention to a case.  Instead, a Georgia criminal defense lawyer must also show that, because of the pervasive publicity, it would be impossible to select an impartial jury composed of jurors who have not formed fixed opinions about the guilt or innocence of the accused.  Often, it has been my experience that a Georgia judge will not rule on a motion for a change of venue until voir dire occurs, i.e. during jury selection.  There, the jurors can be questioned at length by both sides, the prosecutor and the defense attorney, in order to make, or refute, a case that an impartial jury cannot be obtained and that the trial must be moved. 
However, all that being said, I would imagine that we would all agree that, in a high profile criminal case, such as the media-saturated Tucson murder case, it should not be difficult for the criminal defense attorneys to obtain a change of venue!

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