PEOPLE V. POWELL (1891)
Redwood City, California at the corner of Main and Broadway streets, 1887
More will be said about both Mr. Strode and Mr. Wilson and their affidavits in the chapter following this one, when we examine Rossi’s defense team’s vigorous responses to Hull’s change-of-venue request. For the moment, however, I want to take a brief look at the question of whether Hull’s change of venue (COV) request raised the possibility of a constitutional challenge from Rossi’s defense team. COV applications, after all, are usually associated with the defense, not the prosecution, in trials where considerable public attention has accumulated. Such motions are typically sought when the defense worries that pre-trial publicity has biased the jury pool strongly against its prospects. Hull’s COV application, sparked by his belief that Shoshone County’s jury pool was strongly and irrevocably biased in favor of the defendant, ran counter the customary polarity.
The short answer is that Rossi’s defense team probably saw little possibility of success in a constitutional challenge. The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee a defendant an absolute right to a trial held in the county in which the alleged crime occurred. The Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights asserts only that the accused “…shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed…” (emphasis added). The term “district” therein refers to federal court districts. With the exception of two original states (Massachusetts and Virginia), which were divided into two districts each, such districts at the time were co-extensive with state borders. Hence, the Sixth’s wording effectively guaranteed that the accused’s trial stayed within the broad confines of the same state only. Continue reading