When you face a federal criminal charge, the United States Constitution provides you with a series of important legal rights. While most people understand the concept of the right to remain silent in the face of police questioning, other rights fly under the radar. These rights and protections are vital despite the lack of attention paid to them by procedural crime dramas. One of these rights is known as venue requirements.
Venue is the specific court that hears a criminal case. It is a relevant part of both state and federal law but is more likely to become complicated on the federal level. This is because many federal crimes have elements that occur across state lines.
Ultimately, it is the job of the prosecution to bring criminal charges in the correct venue. The failure to do so could lead to the dismissal of these charges, making venue a potential defense in federal cases. For a careful review of your criminal charges for venue issues, contact attorney Doug Murphy as soon as possible.
Article 3 of the United States Constitution makes clear that you have the right to be tried in the appropriate venue. According to the Constitution,
the Trial of all Crimes . . . 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.
The Constitution does not provide the only guarantee of appropriate venue in criminal cases. The same guarantees in the constitution are mirrored by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 18. According to Rule 18:
Unless a statute or these rules permit otherwise, the government must prosecute an offense in a district where the offense was committed. The court must set the place of trial within the district with due regard for the convenience of the defendant, any victim, and the witnesses, and the prompt administration of justice.
Ultimately, the prosecution should occur in the federal district where the crime was committed. This becomes complicated depending on the offense. For example, criminal acts that involve crossing state lines or distributing illegal items through the United States mail complicate these venue requirements. If the appropriate venue is not clear, the court will look to the statute. In some cases, federal law will provide clear guidance on the appropriate venue. If the prosecution fails to heed these guidelines and brings a prosecution in the wrong venue, the defendant could be entitled to a dismissal of all charges.
Proving Venue at Trial
Appellate courts have repeatedly ruled that venue is an element of a crime. This means that it is up to the prosecutor to establish that venue is proper. Any failure to do so could result in the dismissal of a criminal case. While venue is an element of the crime, the courts hold it to a much lower standard than other elements. Typically, the prosecution must prove each element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction. This is not the case for venue. The government needs only to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that venue is proper to move the trial forward.
One of the most important practical aspects of a venue defense is how that defense is raised in the first place. Unlike many constitutional rights, it is possible for the defendant to waive a venue defense if they do not object in a timely manner. Once the defense is waived, the defendant cannot rely on an argument of improper venue at trial.
Objections based on improper venue should be raised before trial. While it is common for venue objections to be raised early on in the process, the important deadline to keep in mind is the beginning of trial. Even then, there are exceptions that can prevent a defendant from waiving their venue defense. According to federal law, the court will allow additional time to object to venue if the government's indictment failed to provide sufficient notice of a problem with venue. In this situation, a defendant has until the close of the government's evidence at trial to raise venue successfully.
While venue-based defenses are situational, they can provide a potent defense under the right circumstances. However, it is important to note that most criminal cases dismissed for improper venue are not done so with prejudice so long as they occur before the trial begins. This allows the government to bring new charges in the appropriate jurisdiction in the future. If the government filed the initial charges shortly before the statute of limitations expired, it is possible that they could fail to re-file them in a timely manner.
Whether or not the government can bring charges again after a dismissal based on venue depends on whether “jeopardy has attached.” If, during a jury trial, the jury has been sworn in, there is an argument that the defendant cannot face double jeopardy with a second prosecution after a dismissal based on improper venue.
The strategy surrounding venue can also involve a change of venue. Even when venue is technically proper, the law allows the change to a different venue under certain circumstances. The trial court has the discretion to allow a venue change for the convenience of the defendant, for example. In high-profile cases, the court may also move the trial to avoid jury bias. Requesting a change of venue on this basis is a complicated step and should never be undertaken without the guidance of a board-certified expert in criminal defense law.
Examples of the Venue Defense
See the following examples on the use of venue as a defense below.
Frank is charged with a federal drug crime. According to the indictment, he is accused of manufacturing a large amount of methamphetamine within the boundaries of the Southern District of Texas. Because the alleged act did occur in that district, venue is proper.
Fred is also charged manufacturing methamphetamine in the Southern District of Texas. The government alleged venue was proper, but during the trial it becomes clear the alleged operation actually occurred across a county border within the Northern District of Texas. If impaneled, it is possible a jury could acquit Fred based on improper venue.
How a Board Certified Defense Expert Can Help
The issue of venue is complex. To ensure every potential defense in your case is preserved, you should discuss your options with a Board Certified expert in criminal defense law right away. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away for a free consultation.