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Jeffrey Toobin: Venue change in sniper case

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin

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• Order changing venue: Commonwealth of Virginia v. Malvo  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
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(CNN) -- A Virginia Circuit Court judge Wednesday ordered a change of venue for the trial of teenage sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo.

The judge decided to move the case from the Washington suburbs to Chesapeake, Virginia, ruling that Malvo may not be able to get a fair trial in the area "where many citizens lived in fear during the month of October 2002."

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin talked about the decision with CNN Anchor Miles O'Brien. Below are excerpts from the conversation:

O'BRIEN: ... Does it surprise you, Jeff?

TOOBIN: Not at all, Miles. This is about as good a case for a change of venue as you're going to see. You have the entire Washington suburbs, the northern Virginian suburbs of Washington, completely convulsed by this crime spree. Virginia's a small state. There's only so far you can move it, but 200 miles away seems about as far as you could go, and it seems like the right decision.

O'BRIEN: Now, when we were talking about this same subject as it related to the Laci Peterson case, you said typically when there is a larger metropolitan area to draw from, from a jury pool, it may not be so much of an issue, but I guess this case stands out, doesn't it?

TOOBIN: It certainly does. What's so unusual about this crime is that virtually every potential juror was also a potential victim. Everybody was terrified. The random nature of these shootings made it such that everybody was completely terrified of being the next victim, and the anger is comparable.

In California, they have slightly different rules because it's such a big state. When they have changes of venue there, they tend to try to move from a comparably sized county to a comparably sized county. Remember the dog-mauling case was moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, big city to big city.

Virginia's just not big enough to have a rule like that. Chesapeake seems like about as sensible a choice as they can make.

O'BRIEN: Well, but given the fact they have to stay within the confines of the Commonwealth of Virginia, there is limitation there, and you could make a case that the people in Chesapeake were just as afraid.

TOOBIN: Right. And remember, one of the shootings was almost in Richmond. At some point, you start to run out of state. It is just a small state. And under our federal system, there's simply no way to move a Virginia trial out of Virginia. ...

O'BRIEN: That would be unprecedented.

TOOBIN: Yes and illegal. ...

O'BRIEN: ... And so selecting a jury is going to be very crucial in all this, isn't it?

TOOBIN: It sure will. And, you know, as you point out, the people in Chesapeake were certainly highly aware of this crime, you know, probably fearful as well, but the intensity level certainly will have been less.

And, remember, you know, I think some people have a little bit of a misconception about jury selection. You don't have to pick jurors who know nothing about the case. Obviously, that would be impossible in a lot of high-profile cases.

The standard generally is people who, even though they know something about it, could keep an open mind, and that will certainly be a lot easier in Chesapeake than it would be in Fairfax [County].

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