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How Venue is Determined for a Court Case

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  • 0:06 Venue in State Court
  • 1:31 Gonzalez v. Casey…
  • 3:09 People v. Johannes Mehserle
  • 4:29 Venue in Federal Court
  • 5:11 U.S. v. Gotti
  • 7:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

Venue is the location where a civil or criminal case is decided. The venue is decided similarly in civil and criminal trials. However, the venue is decided differently in state and federal courts.

Venue in State Court

Venue is the location a civil or criminal case is heard. The venue is decided using several factors:

  • Where the plaintiff or defendant lives
  • Where the plaintiff and/or defendant conducts business
  • Where the court is located

However, in a criminal case, venue is decided based on:

  • Where the crime took place
  • Where the body is found

In real property cases, or cases that involve the transfer of property, like buying or selling a home, the court located in the county where the property is situated is the proper venue. To simplify, the venue is the court where a civil or criminal case will be heard. It is located closest to where the dispute or crime occurred. There are exceptions to this rule. In the case of a high-profile criminal or civil case, it may be necessary for the venue to be changed from the location closest to the dispute or crime. There are several reasons the venue may change:

  • The defendant may not have access to an impartial trial
  • Witnesses may not be conveniently located to the original venue
  • Pretrial publicity may create a biased jury
  • A contract clause may dictate the court's venue (if applicable)

Sometimes, even though the fairness of a trial may be jeopardized because of the media's influence, a venue change may still be denied for other reasons.

Gonzalez v. Casey Marie Anthony

In State of Florida v. Casey Marie Anthony, a young mother from Orange County, FL, - specifically, Orlando - was accused of using chloroform and duct tape to suffocate and eventually kill her young daughter, Caylee. Anthony was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. She was also charged with several other crimes, including aggravated child abuse and misleading police in an investigation. In an effort to remove suspicion from herself, Anthony accused a nanny, Zenaida Gonzalez, of kidnapping Caylee. As a result of this accusation and subsequent media coverage, Gonzalez was harassed, threatened both physically and emotionally and denied her right to privacy. She was also terminated from employment. Gonzalez wanted to initiate a civil action against Anthony but was denied until after Anthony's murder trial was decided. Eventually, the trial ended in an acquittal for Anthony.

Gonzalez went through with her plans to sue Anthony in a civil action in Orange County, where the dispute took place. Anthony's lawyers did not feel that Anthony would benefit from a trial in Orange County and requested a motion to change venue. It was argued that Anthony would not receive a fair trial due to the negative publicity surrounding her murder trial. The judge denied the motion based on the burden of costs to the taxpayers for a change in venue. While the case of Gonzales v. Anthony did not have a change of venue, there are cases that warranted a change in venue because circumstances surrounding the case are just so sensitive, a fair trial is worth the price.

People v. Johannes Mehserle

People v. Johannes Mehserle was an extraordinary case in which venue was moved from the location closest to the crime to a location much further away because of the media frenzy and jury selection issues. Johannes Mehserle, a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer, shot and killed Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old, on the platform of the station. Mehserle claimed that he meant to pull his TASER but instead pulled his gun. Mehserle was charged with involuntary manslaughter. In the time before the trial, the case caught the media's attention, and racial tensions escalated in the area.

It was decided that the nature of the crime and Mehserle's position as a police officer could sway a jury. There was even mention of a lack of qualified jurors in the proper venue of Oakland, CA, and that Los Angeles would produce a more substantially mixed pool of jurors. In this case, the judge granted the change in venue from Oakland, CA, to Los Angeles based on the availability of jurors and fairness to the police officer. Even with a venue change, Mehserle was sentenced to two years in prison, but the sentence may have been more severe had he been tried in the same location where the crime was committed.

Had the cases above been federal court cases, venue would work differently.

Venue in Federal Court

In federal court cases, venue is determined by different criteria than state court cases. Venue is based on the specific level of court.

U.S. District Court is the proper venue in cases where federal law is at issue or defendants to the action do not reside in the state where the action was filed. This means, if a civil or criminal case holds the United States as a party to the case, the venue for this case would be a U.S. District Court. There is at least one of this level of court in every state. In a case that involves a crime against the United States, like racketeering, the proximity of the crime scene has nothing to do with the location of the court that hears the case.

U.S. v. Gotti

John Gotti and several other men were indicted, or formally accused, of crimes of the RICO Act, a federal crime. RICO stands for Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations and includes acts and threats of murder, illegal trafficking of contraband, robbery and extortion, amongst other charges. Because racketeering is a federal crime, the trial was held in U.S. District Court. During the trial, the jury could not reach a decision on two of the three racketeering charges. A mistrial was declared, and Gotti would be re-tried.

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