Everyone in Montgomery County is entitled to a basic set of rights, even if they have been charged with a crime. One such protection is the right to an impartial jury trial, as laid out in the Sixth Amendment. Without this fundamental right, there would be no point in presuming a Maryland suspect is innocent until proven guilty. When a case has gotten so much public attention that it is impossible for the defense and prosecution to find an unbiased jury, courts will allow the case to change venues to a more suitable location. Some prosecutors, however, will fight tooth-and-nail to keep a trial in a potentially biased district.
It seems that this is exactly what is happening after a woman was charged with vehicular homicide. The local media has apparently closely covered the case since police say the woman hit a man at the entrance ramp to a freeway, killing him instantly. Not only has this out-of-state accident garnered a lot of local attention, but the woman’s defense attorney has said that prosecutors told reporters that the man’s blood was on the hood of her car.
What is particularly disturbing, however, is that readers of these local news stations’ websites have left angry messages that indicate many people believe her to be guilty. If there is sufficient bias before the trial even begins, it may be very difficult for her attorney to find an impartial jury to try her case. Since she is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the jury should go into the trial with no negative thoughts about her or what she has allegedly done.
So, what does this mean for Marylanders accused of a crime? If you believe that you have already been found guilty in the court of public opinion, it is extremely important that you have a lawyer who can ask for a change of venue. Whether it is because of extensive media coverage or because prosecutors leak facts that paint you in an unfavorable light, your lawyer may be able to move your case to a more neutral venue if there is prejudice.
Source: Star Tribune, “Prosecution presses to keep Senser trial in Hennepin County,” Matt McKinney, March 20, 2012