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Overexposure: When Potential Juror Bias Makes a Change in Venue Possible

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What happens when almost everybody in your local area has heard about your case, watched details of it unfold in the news, seen online videos of the defendant at the crime scene, and heard the matter discussed pretty much everywhere they went for months? It seems like getting a fair trial could be next to impossible to achieve without some drastic intervention—usually a change in venue, or location, of the trial. Learn more about why these are sometimes necessary—and why they are rarely done.

Open courts and growing media interest can taint a jury pool beyond repair.

The courts have become more open to cameras than ever before—and national interest about noteworthy criminal cases has remained high, which means that footage of everything from police interrogation to minute-by-minute coverage of some trials ends up being broadcast online and on television. That can make it hard to find an unbiased jury pool, especially in the geographic area around the crime, since people tend to be personally invested in the cases in their own area.

For example, a Florida woman named Dalia Dippolito is having difficulty finding an untainted jury for her retrial on solicitation to commit first-degree murder with a firearm for arranging the murder-for-hire of her husband. Fortunately, the would-be hitman turned out to be an undercover police officer, but the entire dramatic scene where the police staged her husband's death was caught on camera by film crews for the television show COPS, who happened to be shadowing the police that day—something that now plays into her defense. She was granted a retrial based on the possibility of juror bias in the first place. Even though Florida law only requires 8 jurors (6 regular and 2 alternate), more than half of the people called to possibly serve on a jury admitted that they'd seen too much news coverage not to be biased. 

Judges are still reluctant to switch a trial's venue or bring in jurors from outside areas.

Typically, in cases like these, the defense will ask for a change in venue. Judges are often reluctant to allow a change in venue for several reasons. First, there's an increased cost to all the participants and the state because moving the venue may mean relocating the trial to a nearby county—which means fees for hotel accommodations, per diem rates for expenses, and so on. Second, no matter whether the trial itself is relocated or the jurors are brought in from a neighboring county, that always opens up a question about whether or not the jurors can really be said to be "peers" of the defendant. Socioeconomic factors and social attitudes can vary greatly from one area to the next and affect a jury's decision. For example, if a jury is brought in from a generally poorer county, they may be biased against a wealthy defendant who they see as spoiled and privileged.

Finally, changes in venue are usually fought by the prosecution because prosecutors prefer to work in their own courtrooms with judges they are familiar with and a jury pool whose values and ideals they best understand. Prosecutors will typically wait until it's absolutely clear that an unbiased jury can't be found locally before agreeing to switch venues.

If you're in a situation where you're concerned about juror bias, talk to your attorney promptly about whether or not to ask the judge for a change of venue. Talk to a firm such as Craig H. Lane, PC to consult with a criminal-defense lawyer.