MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The judge overseeing the George Floyd case is telling public officials: stop talking about it.

During a hearing on Monday, Judge Peter Cahill said if public officials, attorneys and family members continue to discuss the case publicly, he’s more likely to move the trial to another county.

According to the Associated Press, Cahill said, “The court is not going to be happy about hearing comments on these three areas: merits, evidence and guilt or innocence.”

So, how does a change of venue work? Good Question.

“The fact that there’s adverse publicity doesn’t in itself mean there’s a change of venue,” said Don Lewis, a defense attorney who also served as a special prosecutor in the Philando Castile case. “You have to assess the likelihood that it’s actually going to impact perspective jurors and impact their ability to render a verdict.”

According to the Minnesota Judicial Branch Research and Evaluation office, moving a trial appears to be a rare occurrence. The office doesn’t keep a comprehensive dataset on changes of venues.

“You may find these motion succeeding in counties where the parties involved are known to everyone in the county,” Lewis said.

For example, the trial of Olga Marina Franco del Cid, the woman who crashed into a school bus killing four children in 2008 was moved from Lyon to Kandiyohi County. But when defense attorneys asked for a venue change in the Castile case, the judge denied the request.

“It’s totally the judge’s discretion,” Lewis said. “The judge is going to look at the nature of the publicity.”

He said the judge will also look at the proximity of the publicity to the actual time of trial.

Usually, it’s the defense who asks for the venue change. Often, they will file affidavits that show print, broadcast or social media coverage. Sometimes they even submit polling of perspective jurors.

If a trial is moved in Minnesota, it would have to go to another Minnesota county.

“The preference is to have cases tried where the offense occurred,” Lewis said. “There’s this notion that people should be judged by the community where the incident occurred.”

It’s not just a convenience and efficiency argument. Lewis says it would be difficult to find another county where most people haven’t seen the tape of George Floyd’s death.

“I think the most important consideration, though, is the fact that your best ability to get a diverse jury panel in a very racially charged case like this is going to be in Hennepin County, so I suspect the judge will try very hard if he can to keep it here.”

Lewis pointed to the Rodney King trial, which was moved from Los Angeles to a Simi Valley. A mostly white jury acquitted all four officers.

“You want to have a verdict — one way or the other that the community views as credible and one of the ways to have it is have it in a county where you can have a diverse jury,” Lewis said.

Heather Brown

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