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Name: People v. Famalaro
Case #: S064306
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 07/07/2011
Summary

A denial of a change of venue motion in a case with heavy media coverage may be predicated on the size of community with a large, diverse pool of potential jurors. Denise Huber was the subject of an extensive search after her car was found disabled at the side of the freeway in Orange County in June, 1991. Her bound and gagged body was found three years later in a freezer on appellant’s property in Arizona. There was a pretrial motion for change of venue filed in late 1996 supported by evidence of media coverage and a telephone survey showing a high percentage of people had prejudged the case. The standard for whether there is a reasonable likelihood that a fair and impartial trial could not be had in Orange County involved consideration of: (1) the nature and gravity of the offense; (2) nature and extent of media coverage; (3) size of the community; (4) community status of the defendant; and, (5) prominence of the victim. The size of the community weighed strongly against a change of venue because Orange County has a large, diverse pool of potential jurors. As such, the Supreme Court placed primary reliance on the trial court’s evaluation due to familiarity with the locale in finding the defense did not show a reasonable likelihood that it could not receive a fair and impartial trial in Orange County.

The denial of a renewed venue motion after the actual voir dire experience, which bears out the statistical survey about media exposure and prejudgment of the case, is based on a review of the entire record and the ultimate selection of jurors who agree to judge the case impartially such that the pretrial publicity had no prejudicial effect. Post-jury selection the change of venue motion was renewed based on the high percentage of jurors with prior knowledge of the case and incidents during jury selection involving vitriolic conversations and an atmosphere of animosity against the defendant. Of the 12 chosen jurors, 10 of them had prior knowledge of the case with specific viewpoints. The Supreme Court’s independent review of the record resulted in a finding that the panel was untainted by the publicity surrounding the case and no evidence that any juror held biases that the selection process failed to detect.