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Chelsea King case

Web makes finding impartial jury tougher

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In the age of the Internet, it's increasingly difficult to convene juries that haven't heard of a high-profile case, according to local law professors.

Even changing the trial's venue is becoming less of a solution.

"Two hundred years ago, when there was a forest between Manhattan and the Bronx, moving a trial had a lot of meaning," said California Western School of Law professor Justin Brooks. "And now, between the 24-hour news cycle and all the publicity, it doesn't make as much sense."

Whether to request a change of venue could be a decision facing defense attorneys in the case involving John Albert Gardner III, who has been charged with the murder of Poway teenager Chelsea King. He was arraigned in court Wednesday and entered a plea of not guilty.

"This case has had a proliferation of information before the jury's even been empanelled," said Brooks, executive director of California Western's Institute for Criminal Defense Advocacy. "We'll have people on TV giving their opinion of the case, and some evidence that's not even admissible in court will come out, and it just pollutes the jury pool.

"It's become a serious dilemma. I don't know that there's any good solutions."

Trials moving jurisdictions is not unheard of today, however.

Jerry Wallingford, an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and a criminal defense attorney, worked on a trial in Fresno several years ago that got moved to Los Angeles County because of the case's local publicity.

"I still think judges will grant changes of venue," he said. "In a case like that, where jurors have already made up their minds before they've walked into the courthouse, it's still an advantage to have it in another county."

But during the trial, the defense team was concerned about jurors getting on the Internet and reading about the case. Bloggers were in the courtroom, posting stories daily.

"The fact you change venues used to mean you're getting a clean slate," Wallingford said. "Now, you start out with a clean slate but there's a greater danger jurors are going to educate themselves about what's going on and prior publicity while the trial is going on.

"Newspapers go away, but the Internet lingers. (Information) posted years ago is still up."

In a highly publicized case last year, members of a Sacramento jury had to sign declarations at the start and end of the trial indicating they would not, and had not, used the Internet to look up facts of the case. San Diego attorney Harvey Levine, who represented one of the plaintiffs in the case, brought the motion, and it's believed to be the first time that such a requirement was placed on a jury.

Levine represented the son of a woman who died of water intoxication after participating in a radio contest.

A factor in deciding whether a case requires a change of venue is the size of the county or district in which the trial is being held. The bigger the county, the larger the jury pool and the better chance of empanelling a jury that isn't prejudiced.

A defendant's prior record and how well they are known in the community could also play a factor in a change of venue request.

In a venue change request, lawyers for both the plaintiffs and the defense will survey the population to gauge their knowledge of the case. The judge then will use those results to make a decision. Even if a change motion is initially denied, the judge typically will give the defense a chance to bring it up again during jury selection.

Judges can only move a case to another district. They cannot move it to the other side of the country.

"There's no easy solution," California Western's Brooks said. "Change of venue is a weaker and weaker remedy. Sequestering juries is really expensive and kind of too late if they've been exposed."

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