Understanding Change of Venue Rules in Georgia
Justin Ross Harris is the defendant in a murder trial where Harris is accused of killing his 22-month-old son, Cooper, after leaving him in a hot car. The incident happened on June 14, 2014 at a Home Depot in Cobb County. The case was commenced in Cobb County until just this week Judge Stanley announced that the case is being moved to Brunswick, Georgia. Harris' case has been widely publicized since the incident and many people across the state are aware of what happened. Harris' Attorney, Maddox Kilgore, argued his client wouldn't get a fair trial in the Cobb County courtroom because the case has been heavily publicized and because the incident happened within that county. Judge Stanley agreed with Kilgore and allowed for the case to be moved 300 miles away from the site of the incident and hopefully away from the extensive publicity.
What Factors do Judges Consider when Contemplating a Venue Charge?
A defendant in a criminal case has the right to a fair trial by an impartial jury. While defendants do not have the right to choose where their trial is held, if there is a substantial likelihood that the jurors will be impartial, then their Defense Attorney can request that the Court move the trial to somewhere else. To prove that there is a substantial likelihood that the jurors will not be impartial, the Defense Attorney has to show why the defendant would not receive a fair trial in their current location. Negative pretrial publicity is one of the most common reasons for seeking a change of venue. However, some publicity will not be enough to warrant a venue change. The publicity must be severe enough that it makes it extremely difficult to find an impartial jury. Lawyers often refer to this as the publicity “tainting” the jury pool. The Court may consider the frequency of the publicity, whether it was objective or slanted against the defendant, whether it was recent or old, how exposed the community was to the publicity, and may also review broadcasts or articles concerning the case. In addition, both the prosecution and the defense have to agree on the location.
High amounts of negative publicity surrounding the case along with the proximity of the incident site to the courthouse are both factors that could influence jurors. Because the Harris case was all over the news, in newspapers, and online, it is highly likely that the jurors selected from Cobb County knew about the case beforehand and probably had already formed opinions as to whether Harris is guilty or not.
Even though it is likely that people in Brunswick, Georgia have also heard about the case, the distance between the two counties allows for a better chance for Harris to receive an impartial jury.
It will be interesting to see what verdict the Brunswick jury comes back with it. Although our office does not handle these types of cases, having a fair jury is still very important when a person has a DUI case in Cobb County. Contact us today if you have any questions.