There are a lot of complex issues that may need to be addressed in a criminal case, not the least of which are jurisdiction and venue.
Jurisdiction is a court’s authority to hear a case and make judgments. Venue, however, refers to exactly which court ends up overseeing the trial. In the majority of cases, jurisdiction belongs to the state where the offense allegedly occurred, while venue goes to the local county courthouse — except when it doesn’t.
When are changes of venue appropriate?
Most of the time, a change of venue is requested when a particular trial — for whatever reason — is deemed “too hot to handle” in the local courthouse. That can happen in all kinds of situations, including:
● The crime happened in a small town or insular community and it will be impossible for a jury to be selected that’s genuinely unbiased because everybody knows each other.
● There’s been extensive pretrial publicity about a crime (such as often happens when a trial is picked up by CourtTV or sensationalized in the news) that may have tainted the potential pool of jurors.
● Local officials (such as the police, the judge and others) have some kind of history with the defendant or case that’s problematic and could point to biases.
● There’s evidence that a particular judge is biased in some way against the defendant.
● There are practical concerns related to the use of the courthouse, transportation for witnesses and so on that could be alleviated by moving the trial.
A change of venue can be requested by either the prosecution or the defense, but defendants usually make the request in an effort to protect their interests. If you suspect that it would be better to have your trial held in a different place, it’s wise to have that discussion with your defense as soon as possible.