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Constitutional FAQ Answer #53

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Q53. "Article III, Section 2 says:

Trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the State where the said crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed.'

"Yet there have been changes of venue that move a trial from one state to another. A famous example is the Oklahoma City bomber trial, which took place in Colorado. How is this possible? What rationale was used to reconcile the change of venue to an out-of-state court with this clause?"

A. Good question.

I'm not sure the exact details of this case, but I can make some guesses.

First, the crimes committed were in more than one state. I don't think they had to be held anywhere in particular, but I think that it likely was held in the same judicial district as the crimes, or the bulk of them, or the result of them. They could have been held in Oklahoma City, but then it would merely have been a matter of convenience for witnesses and out of respect for the victims. But in our system, the rights of the accused outweigh those of the victim.

Second, this is a mandate on the government. If the accused requests a change of venue, and has a good reason, the court is likely to hear it (and sometimes, as in this case, agree with the request). I suspect the same applies when the accused waives his right to trial by jury.

Third, this clause is all about fairness. If the court determines the accused cannot have a fair trial in the state the crime was committed in (assuming it is a federal court), then the court would have the ability to move the venue no matter what the prosecution and defense say.

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