What is a Change of Venue in a Civil or Criminal Case

A change of venue is the transfer of a legal matter from a court in one location to a court in a different location. Generally speaking, the party initiating a case gets to decide where, or in what venue, to the case will be tried. In certain circumstances, however, the defendant can move the venue of the case, if the defendant can persuade the court to grant its motion for change of venue.

Change of venue in a criminal case

In high-publicity criminal cases, the defense may file a motion to change the venue of the case if the defendant believes that the pretrial publicity surrounding the case will prejudice the jury pool and prevent the defendant from getting a fair trial. In most jurisdictions, the judge has the discretion to change venue even if the defendant has not filed a motion seeking this relief.

If a motion to change venue in a criminal case is granted, the case will likely be moved to a county adjacent to the county in which the action was originally brought. It is debatable whether a move from one county to another provides adequate protection for the defendant from the prejudice that caused the case to be moved in the first place. In any event, courts favor holding a trial in the location where the defendant can be tried by a jury of her peers and where the witnesses and attorneys can participate in the trial without undue inconvenience caused by having to travel great distances just to get to court.

Change of venue in a civil case

The plaintiff gets to decide where to file a civil case. However, if a defendant has a valid reason for requesting a change of venue, the court may grant the defendant’s motion and move the case elsewhere.

For example, a Florida resident may sue a California corporation in federal court in Florida for patent infringement. In support of its motion to change venue, the California corporation would present evidence showing that all of the key witnesses in the case were located in California, and that a serious business disruption would result from all the witnesses having to leave their business in California and travel to Florida for a trial. The court would also consider personal reasons for the change, such as a witnesses’ illness or inability to travel for other personal reasons.   

If the court grants a change of venue in a civil case, the case will not necessarily be moved a short distance away, as it would be in a criminal change of venue. A civil case would be moved to the venue most convenient for all the litigants, wherever in the country that might be.

A change of venue is a simple concept in litigation involving the moving of a case from one location to another. The reasons for changing venue vary, depending on whether the case is a criminal case or a civil case. In a criminal or civil case, the judge will decide on the new venue for the case if a motion to change venue is granted.