In sports, teams have the home court advantage when they play on their own turf, which allows them to utilize the familiarity of their own fields and courts and gives the opposition a harder time trying to adjust to new territory while playing the game. But home court has its downsides, and in the recent court case for Senator Robert Menendez, being in a familiar arena is a distinct disadvantage.
Menendez and his co-defendant Salomon Melgen are on trial for charges that Melgen bribed Menendez with a variety of gifts in exchange for significant financial and personal gains for Melgen, which were provided by Menendez’s position as senator.
On April 1, both men were indicted for conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services wire fraud, violation of the Travel Act, three counts of honest services fraud and eight counts of bribery. The case was filed in Newark by the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. and has been assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge William Walls of New Jersey.
Both Menendez and Melgen filed a motion on May 11 to change the venue to D.C., claiming that most of the 36 witnesses presented in the case are located there and most of the events in question took place there.
However, Menendez is also concerned that it will be hard to find unbiased New Jersey residents for the jury, thanks in no small part to the extensive media coverage that his case has been given. Every step of the case has been well documented and reported, from the initial charges of bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud and more.
In his motion for the venue change, Menendez claimed there have been several pre-trial leaks of information by law enforcement officials, which led to public attention even before the indictment.
More than 100 reporters and photographers covered his court appearance and, according to his motion, “every court proceeding, let alone every trial, will result in more of the same…It will be easier to seat a jury without strong views in support of or against Sen. Menendez outside the state.”
Trial By Jury Rights
Every criminal defendant is entitled to a trial by a jury of his or her peers and this jury is selected through deliberate processes to ensure it is made up of unbiased individuals with no personal involvement in the case, who are able to weigh the facts presented and decide accordingly.
In Menendez’s case, the ongoing talk about his alleged criminal activity is widespread, meaning that most people in New Jersey have at least a basic knowledge of the case and likely have some opinion formed. This makes it hard to select an unbiased jury and as the trial goes on, any previously formed opinions may have a negative impact on that jury member’s decisions.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent anyone who has been charged with criminal activity, especially those who feel their case may be affected by the court or venue. You have a right to a fair trial and if you feel that you are not getting one, you may be able to move locations or make changes. To discuss your options, contact one of our New Jersey criminal attorneys today.