A change of venue motion is a legal mechanism by which an OWI attorney can seek to transfer a dui prosecution to another county. The rationale for such a motion in general terms is that due to pre trial publicity a defendant cannot be expected to receive a fair hearing from local jurors potentially affected by negative news coverage prejudging guilt.
While there other other legal justifications to support change of venue requests, negative pre trial news coverage as to the reporting of a specific prosecution is most often the cause of justified motions to move a prosecution elsewhere.
Although the Indiana rules of criminal procedure allow for changes of venue, speaking as an OWI lawyer in Indiana I can state that such motions are rarely granted. The last successful change of venue request was made in 2009 and involved the attempted murder of an Indianapolis police officer.
Outside counties typically have their own burgeoning caseloads to manage much less worry about having to incorporate a high profile prosecution into their limited alloted timeframes within which to dispose of criminal cases.
With that said, certain prosecutions achieve such notoriety that to not move them elsewhere is to invite appellate review should a guilty verdict be obtained. In such cases it is far better to err on the side of caution than to waste valuable time and resources on a criminal prosecution only to have a verdict vacated by an appellate court and ordered for a new impartial trial in an outside county.
The David Bisard case prosecution has achieved such notoriety. Over the past months the dui trial of the Indianapolis police officer has reached a fever pitch throughout central Indiana. Whether due to initial legal rulings to dismiss the dui case, to questions as to incompetence and favoritism by law enforcement as to Bisard’s arrest, few who reside within central Indiana can escape the barrage of media coverage on all sides of the issue.
Though the defense motion for the change of venue was granted in December of last year, I have questioned why it has taken so long for the change of venue process to have been initiated. Only now, two and a half years after the fatal accident for which Bisard is being prosecuted is the case prosecution being transferred to Allen County Indiana, whose county seat is Fort Wayne approximately one hundred and twenty miles away from the Indianapolis courtroom of Judge Grant Hawkins.
Judge Hawkins for his part made his own news in using the opportunity for the transfer to punt this political football to the control of Allen County Superior Court Judge John Surbeck Jr. who will now preside over the case. Judge Hawkins who I believe has acquitted himself quite well in the handling of the prosecution has cited the distance to Ft. Wayne as one reason why his continued jurisdiciton over the prosecution would be impractical.
The hearing on the venue change itself served as a reminder on why such a transfer was warranted as an everpresent active assembly of news reporters and photographers were on hand for the brief ruling announcement. The Indianapolis dui attorney for Bisard attempted in vain to have the identity of the county assuming jurisdiction to be concealed so as to prevent undue pre trial publicity especially where a trial date has not yet been determined. However, Judge Hawkins ruled that the logistics of court scheduling and other necessary pre trial arrangements required adequate notice to all concerned in Fort Wayne.