Loughner Trial May Move to California

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The trial of Jared Loughner, the single suspect in the Arizona shooting of 19 people that left 6 dead, is facing some challenges before it even gets started. First, all of Arizona's federal judges recused themselves from presiding over the trial because of their personal connections to one of Loughner's victims, District Judge John M. Roll. Larry A. Burns, a U.S. district judge based in San Diego, was chosen to oversee the case, and now is predicted to try to move the trial away from Arizona "because the tragedy has profoundly shaken so many potential Arizona jurors," according to The Los Angeles Times.

Criminal cases are required to be tried in the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed. On rare occasions, however, some high profile cases are moved to outside jurisdictions in order to offer the defendant a fair trial, free of overwhelming bias from jurors who may not be able to put aside emotions when the crime in question affected their community. The trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, for example, was held in Denver for precisely this reason.

Those keeping up with the case discuss the potential for a change of venue and the challenges that will face the trial regardless of where it takes place.

  • Bias Against the Suspect Is Widespread  Daily Intel's Nitasha Tiku isn't sure public anger towards Jared Loughner stops at the Arizona border. "If they're looking for an untainted jury pool and uninvested court system, they're gonna have to look a lot farther away than California," she writes. "Heck, even Cuba has taken itself out of the running."
  • Giving Up One Right for Another  "Even in egregious circumstances, it is difficult for defense attorneys to convince federal judges to move a murder trial away from the jurisdiction where the murder occurred," notes Andrew Cohen at Politics Daily. But it does happen. Cohen points out that by pushing to move the case outside Arizona in order to insure Loughner's right to a fair trial with an impartial jury, the suspect would be giving up another right--to be tried in the location in which his alleged crimes were committed.
  • To Keep the Trial in Arizona, Give Up the Death Penalty  Talk Left blogger Jeralyn suggests that the trial's location may ultimately be determined by whether or not federal prosecutors seek to punish Loughner, if convicted, with the death penalty. "If the feds really want to increase the likelihood the trial will be held in Arizona, it should decide against bringing the death penalty," Jerlayn argues.
Any motion by the defense is also likely to include reports by experts who have conducted surveys among Arizonians as to whether they would be more likely to recommend death in the event of a conviction and where the trial should be held. The Government will respond with its own experts and surveys. the Court will hold hearings. This process also is likely to take months.
  • Beyond Venue, Prosecution Faces Challenges  Once the venue is decided, the federal prosecution will then be challenged with proving Loughner's guilt, as the suspect's mental stability is being seriously questioned. CBS's Jan Crawford reports that "this could be one of those rare cases where a guilty verdict is difficult and the death penalty is almost impossible" because Loughner may be able to use the insanity defense. Crawford explains:
That defense rarely works. An exception is John Hinckley, who tried to kill President Reagan, and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Confined indefinitely to a mental institution, Hinckley now has freedom to leave the facility for unsupervised visits with his family.
If Loughner is convicted of the crimes the insanity defense could still help him avoid the death penalty as it did for those other clients of Judy Clarke.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.