You’ve been charged in connection with a high-profile crime, and you’re naturally scared. You’re also confused. Your defense attorneys are talking about challenging the court’s jurisdiction over the case and asking for a change of venue.
What exactly is going on? Well, every criminal case is different, but here are the basics you should know.
What’s the difference between jurisdiction and venue?
Jurisdiction refers to a court’s authority to even hear a case. Generally speaking, jurisdiction may belong either to the federal court system or the state where the crime took place.
Venue, in contrast, refers to the actual courtroom where the case is being heard. That could be at the local courthouse, the county seat or (in federal cases) the nearest U.S. District Court.
Why would someone try to change either jurisdiction or venue (or both)?
In essence, the goal is to get a fair trial. Prosecutors can ask for a change of venue or challenge a court’s jurisdiction over a case the same way that defense attorneys might, but the request usually comes from the defense when:
- It’s possible that the state could have jurisdiction (and that usually means that the penalties for the defendant, if convicted, would be less severe).
- The crime is sensational or shocking and the local community has been buzzing about it for a while, which could make finding an impartial jury impossible.
- There are allegations that the police, the prosecutor’s office and/or the judge currently assigned to the case have committed some kind of malfeasance or are biased against the defendant.
An experienced criminal defense is always looking for ways to tilt the odds in the defendant’s favor, and that process starts long before the opening statements in a case.