The legal term venue refers to the location where a trial will be heard, and is most commonly the most convenient court location to where the crime was committed, or where the civil legal action began. If an individual files a lawsuit at a location that is not the proper venue, the other party may object and request a change of venue. Venue is not the same thing as jurisdiction, which refers to the court’s authority to hear certain types of case. To explore this concept, consider the following venue definition.
Definition of Venue
- A place where a crime is committed, or civil cause of action takes place
- The county or state where a jury is selected, and trial held
- The designated court where a trial will take place
1300-1350 Middle English < Middle French venue (“an attack”)
What is Venue
Venue, or where trials are to be held, is an issue addressed in the U.S. Constitution, as a frequent complaint of American colonists was that the king frequently transported people to the Americas for “pretended offenses.” Article 3, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states:
“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.
While venue and jurisdiction are often used interchangeably, the two are very different. Jurisdiction refers to the legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case, while venue refers to the specific location where the case will be heard in court. Because of this, the state court of the state in which a crime is committed may have jurisdiction (legal authority over the case), but the proper venue (location where the trial will be held) may be the court in a specific city within that state.
If John commits a crime in Kansas City, Missouri, the Missouri state court has jurisdiction (authority) over the case, and the trial is likely to be held in Kansas City (venue).
How is Venue Determined
Both criminal and civil matters must be filed in the court of the proper venue for the case. The laws of each jurisdiction answer the question, how is venue determined. Generally, however, proper venue is found in the judicial district in which:
- A contract that is the subject of the legal action was signed, or in which it was to be carried out
- An accident resulting in injury or property damage that is the subject of the legal action took place
- Other events directly leading to the legal action took place
- The defendant resides or does business
- The crime took place in a criminal matter
Annabelle entered into a contract with Mighty Mops cleaning service, in which the service was to clean her home twice a week. Annabelle lives in Washington County, and the corporate office of Mighty Mops is in Lincoln County, 60 miles away. One of the housekeepers knocked over and broke a TV while cleaning Annabelle’s home, and the company refuses to pay for it.
Annabelle files a lawsuit against Mighty Mops in the state court in Washington County. The owner of Mighty Mops objects, claiming that, because their office is in Lincoln County, the contract originated there, and the Lincoln County courthouse would be much more convenient for him. The court is likely to decline Mighty Mops’ request for a change in venue, as the case was already in a proper venue. Technically, the case could be filed in either county, as the contract originated in Lincoln, but was to be carried out in Washington.
Venue in a Criminal Trial
While proper venue in a criminal trial is usually the district in which the crime was committed, some states require the prosecution to prove proper venue before a trial can proceed, or for a conviction to be valid. When the prosecution is required to prove venue, he or she must prove where the crime occurred. This is commonly done with nothing more than circumstantial evidence, or direct testimony, the court making its decision based on a preponderance of evidence. It would be up to the plaintiff to make a case for improper venue.
In a case in which venue is uncertain, the court considers certain elements to make its determination. These include:
- The nature of the crime
- Where certain elements of the crime took place
- Where the criminal act took effect (as in a fraudulent contract)
If a crime occurs in more than one county, or near the border between two counties, either county can usually try the case. In regards to online crimes, proper venue may be the location where the defendant initiated the crime, or in the location where the person received the information.
If Bob sends child pornography to friends around the United States, the proper venue in his criminal trial may be in the county from which Bob sent the files, or may be a county in which any of the friends received and viewed the files.
Venue in a Civil Lawsuit
When filing a civil lawsuit of any type, it is up to the plaintiff (the person filing the suit) to file in the court of proper venue. The consequences of filing in a court that is not the correct venue may be dismissal of the case. In determining proper venue in a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff should consider the following:
- The county in which the defendant resides
- The county in which the defendant conducts business (if the lawsuit is related to the business)
- The county in which the dispute or problem occurred
- The county in which the contract was executed or carried out
Change of Venue
The United States Constitution gives each individual the right to a fair and impartial trial. An important issue to conducting a fair and impartial trial is the ability to select jurors who have not already made a decision about whether the defendant is guilty or innocent before hearing evidence within the court. This is an important consideration in cases that have had a great deal of media coverage.
If the defendant, or his attorney, feel it is not possible to obtain enough impartial jurors for the trial, he can ask the court for a change of venue. If granted, a change of venue moves the court proceedings to another city or county where impartial jurors can be found.
Other grounds for a change of venue include a jury pool of people who are predisposed to vote for or against the death penalty in a capital crime, or a judge that holds a prejudice against the defendant.
Change of Venue in Fatal Shooting of Police Officer
On January 1, 2009, BART Police officers in Oakland responded to reports of an altercation taking place on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (“BART”). When they arrived, officers detained several suspects on the platform of the station. Officer Johannes Mehserle and another officer restrained an unarmed suspect, Oscar Grant II, face down, with handcuffs. Mehserle stood up and told his partner he was going to tase Grant. Mehserle then drew his pistol instead of his Taser, and shot Grant in the back. Grant was rushed to the hospital, but died the next morning.
Surveillance cameras and cell phone cameras had captured the entire incident, and the videos were quickly leaked to media outlets and websites leading to widespread protests. On January 30, 2009, Johannes Mehserle was charged with murder.
On June 19, 2009, Mehserle pled not guilty, and his attorneys requested a change of venue, on the grounds that an impartial jury in Alameda County could not be found, which would hinder Mehserle’s right to a fair and impartial trial. Although the prosecution argued against the change of venue, it was granted by the judge in October, and the trial was moved to downtown Los Angeles. Following a trial that lasted about three weeks, Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on July 8, 2010.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Authority – The right or power to make decisions, to give orders, or to control something or someone.
- Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
- Criminal Act – An act committed by an individual that is in violation of the law, or that poses a threat to the public.
- Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
- Jurisdiction – A territory in which the court has the right, power, and authority to administer justice by hearing and resolving conflicts.
- Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
- Preponderance of Evidence – The belief by a jury or judge that evidence presented by one party in a civil lawsuit is more convincing, or believed to be more truthful, than that presented by the opposing party. In other words, it is more likely than not that such evidence is true.
- Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.