The issue of venue recently arose in an Ohio Vehicular Homicide case. As reported by the Leader-Telegram, the defendant was accused of hitting two highway workers in Clark County. As a result of the collision, one worker died, and the other was seriously injured. The defense attorney filed a motion for change of venue. What is venue, and when can it be changed?
What is Venue?
Venue is the location of the trial. For criminal and traffic offenses, venue is determined by the Ohio Constitution, the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure, and the Ohio Revised Code. Rule 18 of the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure simply states, “The venue of a criminal case shall be as provided by law.” Ohio law provides, in Revised Code section 2901.12, that venue is generally in a court which meets two criteria: (1) subject matter jurisdiction; and (2) territorial jurisdiction.
‘Subject matter jurisdiction’ refers to a court’s authority to hear a type of case. For felony offenses such as Aggravated Vehicular Homicide and Aggravated Vehicular Assault, Common Pleas Courts have subject matter jurisdiction. For misdemeanor offenses, Municipal Courts, County Courts, and Mayor’s Courts (as well as Common Pleas Courts) have subject matter jurisdiction.
‘Territorial jurisdiction’ refers to a court’s authority to hear cases in a particular geographic area. The territorial jurisdiction of courts is specified in the Ohio Revised Code, and the Ohio Constitution guarantees the trial will be held in the county in which the offense occurred.
Change of Venue
As the location of the trial is thoroughly address in Ohio law, how can a defendant request a change of venue? Rule 18 of the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure specifically states, “[T]he court may transfer an action to any court having jurisdiction of the subject matter outside the county in which trial would otherwise be held, when it appears that a fair and impartial trial cannot be held in the court in which the action is pending.” If venue is changed, the case is transferred to another Ohio court having subject matter jurisdiction.
The most common reason for a change of venue is pretrial publicity. If a criminal case has attracted media attention, a defendant may believe he or she will not receive a fair trial in the county where the alleged offense occurred because the potential jurors have heard information about the case which may prevent them from being fair and impartial.
The Clark County Case
In the Clark County case, the defendant’s attorney cited pretrial publicity as the reason for the request to change venue. The case involved felony offenses, so defense counsel asked the judge to transfer the case to another Common Pleas Court; the type of court which has subject matter jurisdiction for felonies. The judge denied the request for change of venue, concluding a fair and impartial trial can be held in Clark County.
When a judge denies a request for change of venue, the defendant has no immediate recourse. If the defendant is found guilty in the trial (or pleads No Contest), the defendant can then appeal to a Court of Appeals, arguing the judge erred by denying the request for change of venue.