Criminal procedure refers to the overall legal process of adjudicating claims for those accused of violating criminal laws. The intention behind all criminal procedures is known as the “presumption of innocence,” meaning that a suspect is considered to be innocent until they are proven guilty. As such, the burden of proof is on the state prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant actually committed the crime in question.

Criminal procedures include a variety of Constitutional protections for the defendant, which are intended to prevent abuses of the justice system. Some of these protections include:

Criminal procedure begins with the apprehension of the suspect, and ends with the final verdict or appeal. Additionally, criminal procedural guidelines govern other after-measures, such as probation or parole. Criminal procedure includes:

  • Stop, detention, and arrest;
  • Search and seizure;
  • Booking and filing charges;
  • Suspect end eyewitness lineup identifications;
  • Appointment of counsel;
  • Plea bargaining;
  • Evidence;
  • Trial;
  • Sentencing;
  • Appeal; and
  • Probation and parole.

Another of these rights is known as venue requirements; venue refers to the specific court that hears a criminal case. It is relevant to both state and federal law, but is more likely to become especially complicated on the federal level because many federal crimes involve elements occurring across state lines.

As such, it is the prosecution’s responsibility to bring criminal charges in the correct venue; failure to do so could result in the dismissal of these charges, which would make venue a potential defense in federal cases.

To simplify, “venue” refers to the proper location in which a case may be heard in a court of law. In criminal cases, the venue is the location in which the particular crime was committed. As such, if the crime was initiated in one area but was completed in another, the trial may be held at any of those locations. This is also true if multiple crimes were committed in various jurisdictions.

Venue is a term that is often confused with “jurisdiction.” Jurisdiction refers to the court’s authority to rule on a particular matter, and before it can render a decision, the court must verify that it has jurisdiction. Alternatively, venue simply refers to the geographic location of the court. Rules governing venue selection vary from state to state, and will largely depend on the type of crime that was committed.

Can the Venue for a Criminal Trial Be Challenged?

The venue for a criminal trial can be challenged by filing a motion for a change of venue. However, this must be done in a timely manner, and in accordance with procedural rules. A request for a change of venue is generally made before the trial begins, in which case it is called a pretrial motion, or change of venue motion.

If the party remains silent regarding the venue, they are said to have waived their right to challenge the venue. Entering into a guilty plea also disqualifies the defendant from requesting a motion to change venue, which will be further discussed below. Purposefully choosing a venue in order to benefit a case is known as “forum shopping.” While considerably rare in criminal cases, it may be necessary under some circumstances.

While the venue is an element of the crime, it is held to a considerably lower standard than other elements. Generally speaking, the prosecution must prove each element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction; however, this is not the case for the venue. The government must only prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the venue is proper in order to proceed with the trial.

Unlike many constitutional rights, it is possible for the defendant to waive a venue defense if they do not object in a timely manner, as was previously mentioned. Once waived, the defendant cannot rely on an argument of improper venue at trial.

While it is common for venue objections to be raised early on, the important deadline to keep in mind would be the beginning of trial. Under federal law, the court will allow additional time in which to object to the venue if the government’s indictment failed to provide sufficient notice of a problem with the venue. Under these circumstances, a defendant has until the close of the government’s evidence at trial in which to raise the venue defense successfully.

It is important to note that most criminal cases that are dismissed for improper venue are not done so with prejudice, as long as they occur before the trial begins. This allows the government to bring new charges in the appropriate jurisdiction in the future. As such, if the government filed the initial charges shortly before the statute of limitations expired, it is possible that they could fail to re-file them in a timely manner.

Whether the government can bring charges again after a dismissal based on venue largely depends on whether “jeopardy has attached.” If during a jury trial, the jury has been sworn in, there is an argument that the defendant cannot face double jeopardy with a second prosecution after a dismissal based on improper venue.

The strategy surrounding the venue can also involve a change of venue. Even when a venue is technically proper, the law allows for a change to a different venue under specific circumstances. An example of this would be how the trial court has the discretion to allow a venue change for the convenience of the defendant. In especially high-profile cases, the court may move the trial in an effort to avoid jury bias; however, requesting a change of venue on this basis is complicated, and should never be undertaken without the guidance of an expert in criminal defense law.

For What Reasons Can the Venue of a Criminal Trial Be Changed?

A defendant in a criminal case is not guaranteed the right to any particular venue. However, the venue may be changed and the case relocated for reasons such as:

  • Pretrial Publicity: The jury may become partial due to press leaks surrounding the case. In response, the case may be moved to a different jurisdiction or state in order to prevent juror hostility and/or prejudice;
  • Improper Venue: The defendant argues that the current venue is not proper according to rules of procedure; and
  • Interests of Justice: This is a catch-all doctrine, allowing a trial to be relocated due to a variety of factors, such as: travel costs, judicial expenditures, location of witnesses or evidence, and/or choice of applicable law

A judge has the discretion to determine whether a change of venue is appropriate. Additionally, procedural requirements may force the trial to change locations, such as when a trial is transferred from a state to federal court.

Entering a guilty plea is a complete admission of guilt and a waiver of rights, including change of venue. Most defense attorneys would not advise a defendant to plead guilty unless doing so had some sort of benefit. An example of this would be how a guilty plea may be exchanged for a more favorable sentence.

Do I Need a Criminal Lawyer for a Change of Venue Issue?

A change of venue is a serious decision that will significantly influence the outcome of the trial. An experienced trial criminal lawyer can help you decide whether a motion for change of venue is best for you, based on the specifics of your case.

Additionally, lawyers are often familiarized with the rules and procedures in other jurisdictions, and they can select a venue that is most advantageous for your case.