How difficult is it to get a ‘change of venue’ in Texas?
Any time a client’s case has been featured in the news media, the client will ask if we should seek a change of venue. In Texas, as in most states, a motion for change of venue is rarely granted. Moving a trial to another county is expensive and can be a great inconvenience for the judge and prosecutors. Also, the burden on the defense to convince a judge a trial should be moved is very high.
The recent ruling of Judge Mark Rusch provides an excellent example of this issue. Enrique Arochi stands charged in Collin County with Aggravated Kidnapping for the abduction of Christina Morris. The case has received extensive media coverage and Arochi’s attorneys filed a motion for change of venue arguing that the extensive media coverage has been inflamatory and prejudicial, and would prevent their client from obtaining a fair trial. This past Friday, Judge Rusch denied the motion.
The defense can always resubmit their motion during jury selection if a large number of the potential jurors tell the judge they can’t be fair because of the media coverage they have read. This sounds good, but rarely happens. I have participated in a number of high profile cases and many jurors are reluctant to admit they will be influenced by media coverage.
In large counties, many jurors really don’t follow the news that carefully and don’t know any facts about the case. It has always shocked me how little many people follow local news. Smaller counties can be a different story. Any high publicity case in a small county generates a lot of local coverage and the local population will follow the case closely. However this doesn’t mean the judge will grant a change of venue.
Just because a juror has read about the case or seen a news story on TV doesn’t mean they are disqualified. The jurors must tell the judge that they have already formed an opinion and their decision would be influenced by what they have seen in the media. Since the prosecution goes first during jury selection the prosecutor will usually try to carefully explain the law to the jurors and make them understand they can’t serve on the case if they answer the questions a certain way.
Some jurors will be honest and will be disqualified. Some jurors will use the law as an excuse to go home and answer in a way to get off the case. But I have found most jurors want to be on high publicly cases and will bend over backwards to appear to be fair and remain on the panel.