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Name: People v. Dawkins
Case #: A150774
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 06/18/2018

When a crime is committed on a train traveling through several counties, venue is proper in any court having territorial jurisdiction. Dawkins was convicted of indecent exposure and other offenses based on two incidents during which he harassed passengers on BART trains. On appeal he argued that venue for the indecent exposure offense was not proper in San Mateo County because he committed the offense entirely within the territorial jurisdiction of Contra Costa County. Held: Affirmed. Generally, the proper venue for the prosecution of a criminal offense is in the superior court of the county where the crime was committed (Pen. Code, § 777). However, the proper venue does not affect a trial court’s personal or subject matter jurisdiction over the criminal action. Under Penal Code section 783, when a crime is committed on board a railroad train or car, venue lies in any competent court through which jurisdictional territory the train passes or where the trip terminates. Because the train passed through San Mateo County, jurisdiction was proper there.

Interpreting Penal Code section 783 to provide venue in San Mateo County does not violate defendant’s constitutional right to vicinage. The Sixth Amendment right to vicinage (i.e., right to a trial by a jury drawn from the vicinage in which the crime occurred) does not apply to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. While there is an implied right to vicinage under the state Constitution, it is the right to a trial by an impartial jury drawn from a place bearing some reasonable relationship to the crime in question. Here, the train passed through San Mateo County and, in light of section 783, there was a sufficient relationship between that county and the indecent exposure offense such that defendant’s right to vicinage was not violated.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: