Written by attorney Jason Matthew Mayberry

Casey Anthony: Example of Venue Change for Jury Selection

Recently I’ve received a barrage of phone calls and in person questions from friends and family following the Casey Anthony case and the current jury selection. If you don’t recall, Casey Anthony is accused of murdering her daughter, Caylee. Casey claims she left Caylee with a babysitter despite the babysitter never being seen by anyone associated with Casey or Caylee. On December 11, 2008 remains of Caylee were found and ultimately Caylee’s death was ruled a homicide by Dr. Jan Garavaglia however the cause of death was not determined. The question so often posed is, how can this jury selection take place in Pinellas County, when the murder is alleged to have occurred in Orange County? This question implicates the right to a fair trial and how the Florida court system attempts to ensure that right remains intact.

Article I, Section 16 of the Florida Constitution guarantees that an accused receive an impartial trial in the county where the crime was committed. However, Under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.240, either the State or the defendant may move for a change of venue, citing that a fair and impartial trial cannot possibly be had in the county where the case is pending. Pursuant to Florida Statute 910.03, after the court orders a change of venue, the court must “give priority to any county which closely resembles the demographic composition of the county wherein the original venue would lie." In the Anthony case, Pinellas County has been selected as the proper county with which to select a jury as the powers that be feel it most closely resembles that demographic makeup of Orange County. Following still with Florida Statute 910.03, upon selection of an acceptable jury in Pinellas County, those jurors will be moved to Orange County and sequestered in a hotel for the duration of the trial. Though the trial will formally occur within Orange County, using Orange County resources, the practicality is that the triers of fact will be from Pinellas County and hoped by all to be fair and impartial as they receive evidence and ultimately determine Casey Anthony’s fate.

But can, even with a Pinellas County jury, Casey Anthony receive a trial untarnished by prejudgment? When a defendant moves for a change of venue, it is generally based on the idea that local prejudice is so intense that it is impossible to find an impartial jury. Jackson v. State, 359 So.2d 1190 (Fla. 1978). The court will then utilize the test set forth in Manning v. State, 378 So.2d 274 (Fla. 1979) and determine whether the general state of mind of the people in the community is so inundated by knowledge of the crime and accompanying prejudice, bias and opinions that no juror could put these out of their mind and try the case using only the evidence presented. You’ll notice these paramount cases were handed down in 1978 and 1979, a time when information didn’t move as quickly and wasn’t beaten to death over and over. There was no Nancy Grace, Greta Van Susteren, or Geraldo Rivera relaying information instantly to their fans. In today’s media, the story is often portrayed utilizing what is a “news making" fact as opposed to all facts, including those of which may be beneficial to the defendant. Very simply, the good people of Pinellas County have just as much access to national news (and this case is certainly national news) as those people living in Orange County. With that being said, how can we expect the jurors from Pinellas County to be anymore impartial than those who would be selected in Orange County? In this day and age, it just doesn’t seem likely.

I don’t wish to imply that a Pinellas County jury wouldn’t be impartial. In fact, in my travels I’ve found that juries in Pinellas County are nothing if not impartial. However, people are people regardless of county designation. With enough information coming from sources who have already expressed their opinion as to guilt or innocence, it is human nature to sometimes take that news at face value. Regardless of whether Casey Anthony is innocent as presumed by law, or found to be guilty by a jury of her peers, at the very least as a citizen of Florida and the United States, she ought to at least have a fair trial.

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