Amdt6.4 Place of Trial: Jury of the Vicinage

Sixth Amendment:

In all criminal prosecutions, 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, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Article III, § 2 requires that federal criminal cases be tried by jury in the state and district in which the offense was committed, 1 but much criticism arose over the absence of any guarantee that the jury be drawn from the vicinage or neighborhood of the crime. 2 Madison’s efforts to write into the Bill of Rights an express vicinage provision were rebuffed by the Senate, and the present language was adopted as a compromise. 3 The provisions limit the Federal Government only. 4

An accused cannot be tried in one district under an indictment showing that the offense was committed in another; 5 the place where the offense is charged to have been committed determines the place of trial. 6 Thus, a defendant cannot be tried in Missouri for money-laundering if the charged offenses occurred in Florida and there was no evidence that the defendant had been involved with the receipt or transportation of the proceeds from Missouri. 7 In a prosecution for conspiracy, the accused may be tried in any state and district where an overt act was performed. 8 Where a United States Senator was indicted for agreeing to receive compensation for services to be rendered in a proceeding before a government department, and it appeared that a tentative arrangement for such services was made in Illinois and confirmed in St. Louis, the defendant was properly tried in St. Louis, although he was not physically present in Missouri when notice of ratification was dispatched. 9 The offense of obtaining transportation of property in interstate commerce at less than the carrier’s published rates, 10 or the sending of excluded matter through the mails, 11 may be made triable in any district through which the forbidden transportation is conducted. By virtue of a presumption that a letter is delivered in the district to which it is addressed, the offense of scheming to defraud a corporation by mail was held to have been committed in that district although the letter was posted elsewhere. 12 The Constitution does not require any preliminary hearing before issuance of a warrant for removal of an accused to the court having jurisdiction of the charge. 13 The assignment of a district judge from one district to another, conformably to statute, does not create a new judicial district whose boundaries are undefined nor subject the accused to trial in a district not established when the offense with which he is charged was committed. 14 For offenses against federal laws not committed within any state, Congress has the sole power to prescribe the place of trial; such an offense is not local and may be tried at such place as Congress may designate. 15 The place of trial may be designated by statute after the offense has been committed. 16

Footnotes

  1.  Jump to essay-1 The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crime shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by law have directed.
  2.  Jump to essay-2Vicinage means neighborhood, and vicinage of the jury means jury of the neighborhood or, in medieval England, jury of the County. 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England *350-351 (T. Cooley, 4th ed. 1899). See 3 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States 1775-85 (1833).
  3.  Jump to essay-3The controversy is conveniently summarized in Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78, 92-96 (1970).
  4.  Jump to essay-4Nashville, C. & St. L. R.R. v. Alabama, 128 U.S. 96 (1888).
  5.  Jump to essay-5Salinger v. Loisel, 265 U.S. 224 (1924).
  6.  Jump to essay-6Beavers v. Henkel, 194 U.S. 73, 83 (1904). For some more recent controversies about the place of the commission of the offense, see United States v. Cores, 356 U.S. 405 (1958), and Johnston v. United States, 351 U.S. 215 (1956).
  7.  Jump to essay-7United States v. Cabrales, 524 U.S. 1 (1998).
  8.  Jump to essay-8Brown v. Elliott, 225 U.S. 392 (1912); Hyde v. United States, 225 U.S. 347 (1912); Haas v. Henkel, 216 U.S. 462 (1910).
  9.  Jump to essay-9Burton v. United States, 202 U.S. 344 (1906).
  10.  Jump to essay-10Armour Packing Co. v. United States, 209 U.S. 56 (1908).
  11.  Jump to essay-11United States v. Johnson, 323 U.S. 273, 274 (1944).
  12.  Jump to essay-12Hagner v. United States, 285 U.S. 427, 429 (1932).
  13.  Jump to essay-13United States ex rel. Hughes v. Gault, 271 U.S. 142 (1926). Cf. Tinsley v. Treat, 205 U.S. 20 (1907); Beavers v. Henkel, 194 U.S. 73, 84 (1904).
  14.  Jump to essay-14Lamar v. United States, 241 U.S. 103 (1916).
  15.  Jump to essay-15Jones v. United States, 137 U.S. 202, 211 (1890); United States v. Dawson, 56 U.S. (15 How.) 467, 488 (1853).
  16.  Jump to essay-16Cook v. United States, 138 U.S. 157, 182 (1891). See also United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S. 150, 250-54 (1940); United States v. Johnson, 323 U.S. 273 (1944).