Constitutional FAQ Answer #53 – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

Constitutional FAQ Answer #53

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Q53. “Article III, Section 2 says:

Trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by
jury; and such trial 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.’

“Yet there have been changes of venue that move a trial from one state to
another. A famous example is the Oklahoma City bomber trial, which took place
in Colorado. How is this possible? What rationale was used to reconcile the
change of venue to an out-of-state court with this clause?”

A. Good question.

I’m not sure the exact details of this case, but I can make some

First, the crimes committed were in more than one state. I don’t think they
had to be held anywhere in particular, but I think that it likely was held in
the same judicial district as the crimes, or the bulk of them, or the result of
them. They could have been held in Oklahoma City, but then it would merely
have been a matter of convenience for witnesses and out of respect for the
victims. But in our system, the rights of the accused outweigh those of the

Second, this is a mandate on the government. If the accused requests a
change of venue, and has a good reason, the court is likely to hear it (and
sometimes, as in this case, agree with the request). I suspect the same
applies when the accused waives his right to trial by jury.

Third, this clause is all about fairness. If the court determines the
accused cannot have a fair trial in the state the crime was committed in
(assuming it is a federal court), then the court would have the ability to move
the venue no matter what the prosecution and defense say.

Last Modified: 17 Aug 2010

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