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What Is a Motion for Change of Venue?

A motion for a change of venue is a legal request for a party to transfer the case from one location to another. This motion secures an impartial and more neutral venue free from potential biases that could influence a fair trial. In most cases, the parties file the motion because it would be convenient for witnesses or further the ends of justice.

This article provides a comprehensive overview of filing a motion for a change of venue. It discusses the general rules and detailed circumstances for which the court may warrant this motion.

General Rules for Choosing the Proper Venue

The U.S. Code of Civil Procedure section 1391 discusses venue in general. According to this provision, you can file your civil case in any of the following districts:

  • Where any of the defendants live
  • Where a substantial part of the act or omission giving rise to the cause of action happened
  • Where a significant part of the real property involved in the lawsuit is

If no district fits the above criteria, you can file your case in any district where the court can call the defendant.

The Difference Between Venue and Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction and venue are two legal concepts that help parties establish the proper court to hear and resolve a case.

Jurisdiction is the court's power to hear a particular case and have authority over the parties involved. It could also mean the territory upon which the court can legally exercise its power. Various factors determine the court's jurisdiction. These factors include the parties and subject matter, the case's nature, and the geographical scope.

Venue is the specific district or location that will hear the case. When choosing the proper venue, the party must consider the convenience of witnesses and parties to the case and potential bias or impartiality. The following section discusses some common grounds for a change of venue in more detail.

What Are the Grounds for Changing the Venue?

Several reasons can qualify you to change venue. The following are some of the common grounds:

  • Convenience of witnesses and parties involved. If it would be more convenient for you and the witnesses to move the trial to a different court, you can apply for a change of venue.
  • Improper venue. You can also request a change of venue to the proper county if you believe that the party filed the case to the wrong court. This can happen due to administrative errors or jurisdictional issues.
  • Fair or impartial trial. If you have a reason to believe that an impartial trial isn't possible in the original court, you can also request a change of venue. An impartial trial can happen due to bias, pretrial publicity, or other circumstances surrounding the case.
  • Concerns about prejudice. In the interest of justice, you can also seek a change of venue if there are concerns about prejudice on the judge's part. For instance, in cases where the judge had previous involvement, you can ask for a change of venue if the judge had a possible personal interest in the outcome. This can happen if the judge has a relationship with a party to the case or a financial stake in the outcome.
  • The case requires specialized knowledge. Some criminal or civil actions involve complex, specialized, or technical legal issues. When this happens, the case may need a judge with specific expertise that might not be available in the present venue.

Remember that specific rules and procedures for changing venues may vary depending on the jurisdiction. For instance, in New York, the Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) Section 510 states that the court may change the venue of an action:

  • If the case is not in the proper county
  • If the court has reason to believe that the jury can't be impartial at the appropriate county
  • The change of venue promotes the convenience of witnesses and ends justice

If you have questions about filing a motion to transfer venue, consult a litigation attorney near you.

The Procedure for a Change of Venue

To request a change of venue, the party often has to file a written motion with affidavits showing the defendant's entitlement to it. The procedure for changing the venue may vary depending on state law. But the following steps are generally involved in the process:

  1. Filing the motion. The moving party should file a motion for a change of venue with the court where the case is pending. The motion should clearly state the reason for the change of venue. Also, remember that there are often rules on when you should file your motion for a change of venue.
  2. Supporting affidavits. The moving party must also provide affidavits and other evidence to support the motion. These documents should show the grounds for a change of venue and uphold the claim that another venue would be more suitable.
  3. Serving the motion. The moving party should serve the motion and other supporting documents to all the parties involved in the case.
  4. Hearing. The court will often hear the motion, during which both sides can present an argument for or against the change of venue. The judge will likewise consider all arguments and evidence presented.
  5. The judge's decision. After the judge considers the merits of the motion and the documents provided, the judge will either grant or deny the motion. If the judge grants the motion, the court will move the case to the proper court. But if the judge denies the motion, the case will proceed as it is in the original court.

Note that federal and state courts have stringent rules about changing venues. It's best to look at your local court rules to see where the proper court is to file your case. State laws may also provide grounds for changing venues in superior courts.

State and Federal Rules

For cases involving real property, the court in the same county where the real estate is usually hears the case. But there have been cases where a party filed a case in a court that was too far for the other party to travel to. Sometimes, one party uses this tactic to make it more difficult for the other to take part in the case. When this happens, the affected party can file a motion to transfer the venue or have the venue changed.

Some cases are infamous in a particular locality. When this happens, a party may want to change venue to prevent bias from jurors who will hear the case.

Notable Case Laws

Some of the prominent case laws where the issue of change of venue played an essential role in the proceedings:

The O.J. Simpson Trial (1995)

The infamous criminal trial of O.J. Simpson was initially set in Santa Monica, California, where the murder happened. But the trial was later moved to downtown Los Angeles. There was a need for a more extensive and secure trial court to accommodate the media frenzy and public interest the case garnered. It also aimed to ensure a fair trial of the accused and address issues of impartiality.

The Rodney King Incident (1992)

The trial after the Rodney King incident was first set in Los Angeles, California, where the beating happened. The case got massive publicity and was soon moved to Simi Valley, California. The court determined that the case's publicity and political environment might prevent the defendant from getting a fair trial.

The Boston Marathon Bomber (2015)

The trial of the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing was set in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. But the defendant filed a motion for a change of venue, arguing that extensive pretrial publicity and the strong sentiments of the locals would make it hard for the accused to get a fair trial. The defendant also claimed that prospective jurors are likely to hold prejudice against the defendant, making gathering an impartial jury almost impossible. Despite these arguments, the court ruled that the defense did not meet the criteria needed to warrant a change of venue.

Seek Legal Help for Your Motion for a Change of Venue

If you're considering filing a motion for a change of venue, consulting a litigation attorney can help. They can give you legal advice, help you navigate the legal complexities of filing this motion, and help ensure impartiality in your case. Contact a litigation and appeals attorney near you to learn more.

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