Requesting a change of venue in a criminal case

One of the cornerstones of the American criminal justice system is the right of the accused to receive a fair and impartial adjudication of their case. There may be times, however, where circumstances do not allow for this to happen in the specific area that technically has jurisdiction over the matter. In such a case, defendants might want to request a transfer of their legal proceedings to a different county in California.

Changing the venue of a criminal case, however, is a complex process, and one that must meet the criteria set by state law. A request must first be approved by the court, and the actual transfer falls under the authority of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).

The standards for a change of venue

Defendants can review the details regarding the requirements for a change of venue in Section 1033 of the California Penal Code. It states that the court will only consider such a request if a defendant can prove with “reasonable likelihood” that it will be difficult to secure jurors who can be fair in their judgment toward them (often due to the notoriety of the case). The court itself may also order a change of venue if, after exhausting all of its jury panels, it still cannot secure a jury to try the case.

Managing a venue change

If the court grants a change of venue request, the presiding judge then contacts the AOC to locate options for an alternative location. The AOC will typically return with a list of two or three alternatives. The presiding judge then selects the new venue and the specific judge who will have authority over the case. Pre-trial matters might still occur in the county that has jurisdiction over the case, however, unless the county does not have the resources to accommodate them.

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