ENTERTAINMENT

Trump Wants To Move Jan. 6 Trial To West Virginia

Topline

Former President Donald Trump and his counsel have argued the ex-president’s criminal case for trying to overturn the 2020 election should be moved out of Washington, D.C., and to West Virginia, which could have a friendlier jury pool for Trump—but that prospect is unlikely, particularly as judges, including the one overseeing Trump’s case, have refused to move January 6 cases in the past.

Former President Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally on July 29, in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Key Facts

Trump said on Truth Social late Wednesday that his case will “hopefully” be moved to a more “impartial” venue like the “politically unbiased” West Virginia, claiming it’s “IMPOSSIBLE to get a fair trial in Washington, D.C.” given the district’s political leanings.

Trump’s comments came after his attorney John Lauro suggested in media interviews Wednesday he wanted the case to move to West Virginia, telling NPR Trump’s legal team is “looking for a more diverse area that has a more balanced political jury pool,” and as other Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have suggested going to trial in Washington, D.C., would be unfair to Trump.

The Sixth Amendment grants criminal defendants the right to trial “by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed,” which in Trump’s case would be D.C., given that’s where he conducted his efforts to overturn the election.

But it isn’t unheard of for some cases to be heard in other courts, like the trial for the Oklahoma City bombing suspects in the 1990s, which was moved to Colorado after the court determined “there is so great a prejudice against these two defendants in the State of Oklahoma that they cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial at any place.”

That seems unlikely here, however, as D.C. judges have repeatedly refused to move other cases for January 6 rioters to different courts as the defendants have requested, making similar claims to Trump that any D.C. jury would be biased against them.

That includes U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, the judge overseeing Trump’s case, who ruled in the case of one defendant their assumption the jury pool would be politically biased against them was “not an appropriate basis for changing venue,” writing, “Jurors’ political leanings are not, by themselves, evidence that those jurors cannot fairly and impartially consider the evidence presented and apply the law as instructed by the court.”

Crucial Quote

“Ordinarily, a case should proceed to trial in the district where the crime was committed, and courts can examine after trial whether the record supports a finding of actual or presumed prejudice,” Chutkan noted in her ruling denying a venue change to January 6 defendant Russell Dean Alford. The judge also noted in her ruling that moving a case out of D.C. wouldn’t avoid jurors being potentially biased by the events of January 6, writing, “In any U.S. jurisdiction, most prospective jurors will have heard about the events of January 6, and many will have various disqualifying biases.” Those biases should be addressed in the jury selection process, Chutkan noted, rather than moving the case out of D.C.

Big Number

69%. That’s how much of the vote Trump received in West Virginia in the 2020 election, versus only roughly 30% who voted for President Joe Biden. That’s a sharp contrast from Washington, D.C., where Trump earned only 5.4% of the vote versus 93% for Biden. West Virginia’s population is also much whiter than D.C. and has a greater concentration of older residents, demographics which the Washington Post notes typically tend to be more in line with Republicans.

What To Watch For

Trump will make his first appearance in court at 4 p.m. Thursday, where he’s expected to plead not guilty to the charges against him. The ex-president’s lawyers have so far not filed any official requests with the court about changing the venue to West Virginia, and it’s still unclear what the timing in the case will look like or when it could go to trial.

Key Background

Trump was indicted Tuesday on four federal charges stemming from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, as prosecutors charged him with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiracy against rights. The indictment alleges Trump committed a conspiracy to “impair, obstruct and defeat the federal government function through dishonesty, fraud and deceit” through his and his co-conspirators’ efforts to overturn the election, through efforts like pressuring state officials to reject the results, imposing fake electors to claim Trump won battleground states and pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence to block Congress from certifying the results. The push to move the case to West Virginia is part of a broader defense strategy by Trump’s legal team that’s begun to take shape in the days after his indictment, along with claiming the ex-president’s efforts to overturn the election were protected by the First Amendment—which legal experts have widely criticized—and that he was merely following the advice of his lawyers.

Further Reading

Judges keeping Capitol riot trials in DC amid bias claims (Associated Press)

Hoping to undermine the Trump indictment, his allies are targeting D.C. (Washington Post)

Here’s How Trump’s Attorney Is Defending Him Against Jan. 6 Charges: Citing Free Speech, Blaming His Lawyers And More (Forbes)

Trump Indicted: Here’s How DOJ Says He Illegally Tried To Overturn The 2020 Election (Forbes)

Trump Indicted In Jan. 6 Probe—Here’s What Happens Next (Forbes)

Trump Indicted: Ex-President Charged With These Crimes In DOJ Jan. 6 Probe—And They All Could Include Prison Time (Forbes)

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