For those of us that have been scratching our heads in the change of venue in the Ross Harris murder trial, there have been some things that needed to have light placed upon it. Since Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley granted the defense’s motion to change venue (that is, to move the trial to another location), some have thought that this was the wrong move.

They are the ones that are wrong. 41 jurors had been selected with one more needed and then the venue change. There were some potential jurors that showed their bias against the defendant, saying that the defense would need to disprove their held belief that Harris was guilty.

This is not the case. The defense does not carry the burden of proof. Perhaps those people need to relearn their civic lessons from high school. It’s the state that has that burden. In the Harris case, as just about every criminal case, the burden belongs entirely to the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State law also requires that a potential juror be impartial in order to sit on a jury.

As for the question change of venue? The defense is the only side that can file a motion to change venue and it has the burden of proving overwhelming pretrial publicity and the only time a judge could move the venue on her own without a defense motion is if there are threats of violence against the defendant.

Jury selection, also known as voir dire, is a chance for the district attorney and the defense to question those that were called to jury duty to see if they could be fair, unbiased and impartial. In Cobb County, they were given an 18-page questionaire to fill out and then they are questioned by both the state and defense as individuals, not in groups, to see if there is bias. While what was written by these potential jurors are sealed away from public view, it gave both sides a chance to see the legal landscape for themselves and the defense did not like what they saw. The final jury, whenever that will be selected and where, would make up the final petit jury, a jury that is mandated by the 6th Amendment and Georgia statutes provide that subsequent transfers are possible, because the Constitution demands an impartial jury.

The strong opinions of the citizens of Cobb County could have had a huge effect on Ross Harris if he were to be convicted for the second degree murder of his 20-month old son in July 2014 and could send the case back by the Georgia Supreme Court if that were to take place.

While some of us sit and wonder why judge Staley did what she did and when she did it, others are applauding her decision. It may have been the right thing to do but the bigger question now is where to put this trial? It would more than likely have to be in a county with almost the same population, economic and racial makeup as Cobb and some are guessing that it could take place in the early Fall in either Muscogee (Columbus), Bibb (Macon) or even Glynn (Brunswick). In any case, that jury would have to be selected and the process would have to start all over again.

Ross Harris may have used bad judgement on that July day in 2014. He may or may not have been texting underage females and for the most part, he may not be the sharpest knife in the restaurant but he is entitled to a fair trial. Notice the word FAIR. It’s not going to be a perfect trial. It doesn’t work that way.

Somewhere in Georgia in the Fall of 2016, while most of the state will be paying attention to the Atlanta Falcons and Georgia Bulldogs on the football field, a trial will take place. 12 citizens will be sworn in to listen to evidence and be fair and impartial, regardless of how they feel about the defendant, their political views, their faith or even if they believe in the death penalty (which is not being offered in this trial). They’ll be asked to leave their biases at home, check their egos at the door and listen to both sides.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley got it right when she decided to change venue two weeks ago in Marietta. Let’s hope the jurors that will be selected somewhere in Georgia don’t fumble on the goal line with this one.

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