United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING MOTION TO CHANGE VENUE
STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Government accuses Defendant Richard Knider Jackson of sex
trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion. Defendant seeks to
change venue because of media coverage of a sex trafficking
raid at a motel in Detroit in January 2017. The parties
briefed the issues, and the Court finds that a hearing is
unnecessary. For the reasons below, the Court will deny the
United States Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the
right to a trial by an impartial jury. U.S. Const. amend. VI.
To effectuate that guarantee, the Federal Rules of Criminal
Procedure require a transfer of venue if "so great a
prejudice against the defendant exists in the transferring
district that the defendant cannot obtain a fair and
impartial trial there." Fed. R. Crim. P. 21(a). Two
types of prejudice can warrant a transfer: presumptive
prejudice and actual prejudice. United States v.
Poulsen, 655 F.3d 492, 506 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing
Foley v. Parker, 488 F.3d 377, 387 (6th Cir. 2007)).
The Court will address each in turn.
Prejudice. There is insufficient evidence to support a
finding of presumptive prejudice. "Presumptive prejudice
from pretrial publicity occurs where an inflammatory,
circus-like atmosphere pervades both the courthouse and the
surrounding community." Foley, 488 F.3d at 387
(citations omitted). Given that high bar, a defendant
"bears an 'extremely heavy' burden to show that
pretrial publicity will deprive him of an impartial
jury." United States v. Beasley, No. 12-20030,
2014 WL 1870792, at *2 (E.D. Mich. May 8, 2014) (quoting
Coleman v. Kemp, 778 F.2d 1487, 1537 (11th Cir.
1985)). Accordingly, a presumption of prejudice "attends
only the extreme case." Skilling v. United
States, 561 U.S. 358, 381 (2010).
there is nothing in the record supporting Defendant's
position. Rather than detailing a specific article or
attaching some exhibits, Defendant baldly refers to a
"January 17 sex trafficking charge at Victory Inn,
drugs, juveniles, fugitives, prostitutes across state
lines." ECF 58, PgID 204. That said, the Court will give
Defendant some leeway because he is proceeding pro se, the
Government concedes that "there has been some negative
publicity surrounding a local, unrelated drug and sex
trafficking case at the Victory Inn motel," ECF 74, PgID
320, and the Court is familiar with the incident. That media
coverage, however, is not extreme enough to create a
presumption of prejudice.
the cited media coverage is not related to this case. There
is no indication that Defendant was working with or otherwise
linked to the alleged sex traffickers arrested at the Victory
Inn. And there is no evidence that media coverage of the
Victory Inn raid mentioned Defendant's name or case. The
best Defendant can muster is that he is also accused of sex
trafficking, the coverage of the Victory Inn raid occurred
two months after his arrest, and the Victory Inn was also
located in Southwest Detroit. Anybody familiar with the
Eastern District of Michigan's criminal docket knows that
on a regular basis one defendant is charged with the same
crime as another defendant in an unrelated case, and those
alleged crimes often occur in Southwest Detroit; that is
simply not extreme enough to warrant a presumption of
prejudice. But even if it were, there are several other
mitigating factors here.
example, the No. of individuals available for jury service in
the Southern Division of the Eastern District of Michigan
almost guarantees that an impartial jury can be found.
Beasley, 2014 WL 1870792, at *2-3 (citing Skilling, 561 U.S.
at 382). Also, the Court is unaware of any news stories that
contained a confession or other blatantly prejudicial
information that a potential juror could not reasonably be
expected to exclude from his consideration. Skilling, 561
U.S. at 382. And finally, nearly two years will have passed
between the news coverage Defendant cites and the start of
his trial. See Id. at 383.
prejudice. It is too early to assess actual prejudice. Before
a jury is empaneled, the Court and the parties will be able
to learn more about the potential jurors such as whether they
have seen or heard anything about the case that may cause
prejudice. Beasley, 2014 WL 1870792, at *4. That process is
called voir dire, and it is the best way to determine actual
prejudice. Foley, 488 F.3d at 387. Because the jury pool has
not yet been selected and there has not been an opportunity
for voir dire, it is too early to assess actual prejudice. A
change of venue is therefore unwarranted at this time, but
Defendant may raise the issue again during voir dire.
Beasley, 2014 WL 1870792, at *4.
there is insufficient evidence to find a presumption of
prejudice and it is too early to assess whether there is any
actual prejudice. Defendant is therefore not entitled to
relief under the Sixth Amendment or Federal Rule of Criminal
Procedure 21. So, the Court will deny Defendant's motion.
it is hereby ORDERED that Defendant's
Motion to Change Venue  is DENIED.
hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was
served upon the parties and/or counsel of record on July 25,