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Trial of alleged Tucson shooter could be moved out of Arizona

By Bill Mears, CNN
San Diego could be the venue for Jared Lee Loughner's trial on charges related to the Tucson shootings.
San Diego could be the venue for Jared Lee Loughner's trial on charges related to the Tucson shootings.
  • NEW: The Justice Department will oppose a change of venue, a spokeswoman says
  • The defense is likely to ask for venue change soon, federal judicial sources say
  • The decision rests with judge who replaced slain federal judge
  • San Diego is considered because judge assigned to case resides there, sources say

Washington (CNN) -- Two federal judicial sources say they expect attorneys for accused Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner to ask that any trial be moved out of Arizona, possibly to San Diego, but the Justice Department indicated Monday it would opposed a move

The sources said they expect the defense will make a formal motion in coming weeks to move court proceedings to a neighboring jurisdiction because of pre-trial publicity.

"Federal law dictates these offenses be tried in the district (Arizona)," Justice Department spokeswoman Jessica Smith said. "The Justice Department is moving forward in a manner consistent with the law, and will oppose any change of venue motions."

Earlier, federal sources said that whether to support an out-of-state change of venue, a move that has happened rarely in recent years, appeared to be an ongoing point of disagreement within the Justice Department. A trial also could be held in Arizona outside of Tucson, those sources said. There are federal courthouses in Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Yuma.

A final decision would be made by the new chief judge of the federal courts in Arizona, Roslyn Silver. The 1994 Clinton appointee to the federal bench has taken over for Judge John Roll, one of the six victims killed in the January 8 shooting that also left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, seriously wounded.

Federal sources say Silver -- if asked to move the trial -- would consult with officials of the 9th Circuit, the federal judicial region that includes nine Western states, including Arizona.

Last steps before the shooting
  • Jared Loughner
  • Trials

San Diego, which is in the Southern District of California, is being considered since San Diego-based federal Judge Larry Burns has been assigned to preside over the Loughner case.

The next court appearance for the suspect is January 24 in Phoenix, where Burns will preside. Several members of Loughner's current defense team -- including Judy Clarke -- also are based there.

San Diego is about 410 miles from Tucson.

All federal judges in Arizona have recused themselves from the case. Sources say other possible out-of-state options for a trial would be Los Angeles, or Las Vegas.

Federal prosecutors have the discretion to object to any proposed move out of state for any criminal trial, but they would have no authority to block it. The prosecution of the suspects in the 1996 Oklahoma City, bombing was moved to Denver at the defense's request.

But the 1982 federal trial of John Hinckley, the man who attempted to kill President Ronald Reagan, was held in Washington, where the shootings took place. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

There are no clear guidelines on moving criminal trials out of a state or region. Judges in such cases have wide measure of discretion to decide, legal experts say.

Federal judicial sources said they expect any consideration on the Arizona venue question to be several months off, at least. Those sources offered no guidance on when any trial would begin, saying such decisions are subject to a range of pre-trial motions that can be filed by both the government and defense.

CNN's Carol Cratty contributed to this report.

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