How can we manage this case with existing resources?

One of the first things to consider is if the high-profile case can be tried in its current setting. This is a two-part consideration.   First, can the case be adequately accommodated physically in its current venue (e.g., is the courtroom large enough or is there another suitable “in-county” location)?  Second, can the case be fairly and impartially tried by a jury in its current location? If the answer is no to either of those considerations a change of venue will need to be considered.  Please note that criminal defendants may have the right to be tried in the jurisdiction in which the crime is alleged.


The vast majority of high-profile criminal cases are tried in the jurisdiction in which the charges are filed and where the criminal conduct was alleged to have occurred. However, in many high-profile criminal cases a change of venue motion will be filed.  The basic allegation in these motions is that it will not be possible to select a fair and impartial jury as required by the 6th Amendment due to extensive pretrial publicity in the case.  Some jurisdictions also allow the court to consider the convenience of the location for witnesses and other considerations, although the defendant almost always has a right to be tried in the jurisdiction where the crime was allegedly committed.  It is important to note that every jurisdiction has court rules, statutes and/or caselaw which will address this issue.  Also, the trial judge should be fully apprised of the law in his/her state and may wish to require the parties to brief this issue when it is presented.  Additionally, it is important that the trial judge make a clear and detailed record of findings of fact and conclusions of law during the dispositions of these motions as this issue is frequently appealed.

If a change of venue motion is granted, the trial court, some court staff and the litigants will all travel to another jurisdiction to try the case.   There are obviously significant costs in doing so for the court and the litigants.  However, cost should never be a consideration as to whether a change of venue motion should be granted. 

Change of venue motions are also possible in civil cases but are often addressed in other ways, and they may be styled as a motion to transfer.  For example, for some civil cases removal to federal court may be possible which will generally mean that the jury pool will come from a larger geographical area.  Additionally, the real reason behind some "forum non conveniens" motions may be try the case before a different array of jurors rather than the stated reason in the motion.    


A variant to granting a change of venue is to grant a change of venire.  Courts that use this alternative travel to another jurisdiction with the parties and select a jury.  The jury then travels to the original jurisdiction to hear the case.  This option makes sense if the pretrial publicity has subsided by the time of the trial.  Additionally, it may be appropriate if there are witness that are unable to travel to an out of jurisdiction location.  As change of venire puts the bulk of the burden on jurors rather than the court/parties for the change, they should be and are used extremely sparingly.  


Beyond discussions of the fairness and impartiality of a jury drawn from the local venire, a rural court must consider the additional stresses a high profile trial will place on the court. In terms of physical considerations, a rural court must specifically consider if the court has the capacity and resources to handle the increased security and technology needs. It is equally important for the court to consider staffing concerns including the ability to find additional court staff for the duration of the trial, and securing additional law enforcement.  The court should also consider the impact the high profile case will have on the existing docket.  The trial judge needs to be aware of the law within his/her state as to whether these considerations can form part of the basis to grant a change of venue motion.  If the primary concern is limited to the physical capacity of the courthouse, the trial judge may wish to consider other locations inside the jurisdiction such as a school gymnasium.  

300 Newport Avenue, Williamsburg VA 23185     Phone: (800) 616-6164