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Change of Venue Motion in Fatal Child Abuse Case Hangs in Balance

The defense has lost an early battle in the widely publicized case of a mother whose five-year-old son was found dead in her septic tank. Due to the media attention the case received, the defense has moved for a change of venue. The motion and its accompanying issues shine a spotlight on the realities of criminal justice in the age of the internet.

Venue Selection in Criminal Cases

In criminal cases, the venue is generally the county in which the crime is alleged to have occurred. When it is not certain where the crime occurred, venue may be either in the county in which the defendant resides or in which the arrest is made.

Changes of venue are available upon motion and showing of good cause. Good cause is generally found only in certain high profile cases in which there is a fear that the publicity could taint the local jury pool. The theory behind such transfers is to have the case heard in a county where it is not as widely known.

The Venue Challenge in the Internet Age

In an age of social media and instant mass communication, the assumption that a less biased jury pool can be found elsewhere is seemingly called into question by this particular case. .If news of the case has spread nationwide, can a defendant really expect that the next county over has fewer people in the jury pool that have heard potentially prejudicial information about their case?

The defense thinks they have come up with a way to answer that question. As part of the motion, the defense requested that the court grant (and fund at the cost of $14,000) a social media data analysis in order to determine the extent of the potential for bias in the county in which the charges arise. This in-depth analysis would presumably serve to rebut the government’s contention that the national media attention to the case would mean that a jury in another county would be just as familiar with the case as a local jury would be.

It is not clear whether the court, in denying the motion for a data analysis, was giving credence to the assumption that another county would be equally familiar with the case, or simply declining to spend the money requested. Perhaps another case in the future with a better funded defense will be a better test for this question. If the defense had been able to fund such a study, would a court consider it in making a venue determination? For now, that is a question to be resolved another day.

The ruling on the merits of the change of venue motion is still forthcoming at the time of this writing.

Contact a Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a crime in Virginia, you need the experience and savvy of a dedicated criminal defense attorney. At Simms Showers, we represent defendants in a wide variety of criminal cases. Our attorneys are dedicated to protecting the rights of our clients and ensuring they receive a fair trial, and we keep abreast of all the developments in the procedural laws that affect your rights. We serve the Town of Leesburg, Loudoun County, Prince William County, Clarke County, Winchester City, and Fairfax County. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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