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Inadequate courtroom prompts venue change

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//August 8, 2022

Inadequate courtroom prompts venue change

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//August 8, 2022

Where two defendants in this four co-defendant jury trial have moved to change venue from Fauquier County, the motions are granted because the existing courtrooms in Fauquier County cannot adequately handle the logistics of conducting the trial.


Four defendants are being jointly tried for first-degree murder, armed burglary, conspiracy and a firearm violation. Two of the defendants, Martinez and Pereira, have moved for a change of venue. They advance several reasons for the change.

These include extensive pretrial publicity, the decedent and his family’s extensive ties with the community, the lack of approval for multi-defendant trials in the jury resumption plan and the logistics of conducting the proceedings in one of the county’s courtrooms.

As a preliminary matter, these reasons are insufficient to move the trial elsewhere.


As to pretrial publicity, the “Court does not find that the media reports of these arrests and some of the public factual assertions contained therein are of such a frequency, magnitude or of broad scope across varying media types, that it would prevent the Court from assembling a venire from Fauquier County of untainted jurors capable of hearing these cases without resulting bias.”

The decedent’s father was a 16-year veteran of the county sheriff’s office. The decedent was active in community organizations and many people “attended the celebration of life event for the decedent.

“While the Court recognizes that the level of community involvement of this family is noteworthy, as well as their long-standing ties to the area, these facts alone are unpersuasive to reach the conclusion that would compel the Court to grant the Motions.

“The level of community involvement sufficient to consider a change of venue is directly proportional to the size of the County. Here, there is insufficient information to conclude that the tentacles of this family’s influence extend throughout a community the size of Fauquier County such that the Court would be unable to empanel an impartial jury.”

Although the jury resumption plan does not provide for multi-defendant trials, “[s]ince the time of the filing of these Motions, the Virginia Supreme Court has significantly relaxed Plan restrictions and has empowered judges to made decisions how to safely conduct hearings in their courtrooms. In the Court’s view, the Plan has become a less significant obstacle to courtroom operation.”

Inadequate courtroom

“As Defendant Pereira noted, and the Court has continued to ponder since all four Defendants were assembled in Court in November 2021, how can this trial be conducted in the Circuit Court of Fauquier County?

“At the time of the November 2021 hearing, the Court made several observations, including but not limited to the following:

“1) open floor space was extremely limited after bringing in three additional tables for the parties,

“2) six Deputy Sheriffs were assigned to the courtroom for security,

“3) the two Commonwealth’s Attorneys were operating from an extremely small table that provided insufficient working space,

“4) the Court Reporter was relocated to accommodate the parties,

“5) two of the Defendants were at smaller tables, also with limited working space,

“6) two of the Defendant tables abutted the juror box such that persons at either table would be within an arms-length of one or more jurors.

“These were some of the more open and obvious flaws that the Court noted.

“It further appeared to the Court that there were no other configuration options available that would not impede walking areas, exit routes, or create safety concerns for court security officers.

“The Court further recognized that this hearing did not contain much of the items that are readily apparent during a significant and lengthy trial, such as: volumes/boxes of files and research material, physical and demonstrative exhibits, and audio/video equipment.

“These items would further restrict trial operations  and limit physical space.”

Moreover, the estimated costs of modifying a municipal building to accommodate the trial were several hundred thousand dollars.

“After a full consideration of this suggested option, the Court is unable to justify the modifications and expense necessary to convert this structure into a facility for Court operation for a single three-week trial. …

“The Court hereby orders that venue for the above matters be changed to the Circuit Court of Loudoun County.”

Commonwealth v. Martinez, CR 21-393, 394, 395 and 396; Commonwealth v. Guerra, CR 21-397, 398, 403 and 404; Commonwealth v. Pereira, CR 21-389, 390, 391 and 392; Commonwealth v. CR 21-385, 386, 387 and 388, May 18, 2022, 20th Circuit Court (Plowman). Scott C. Hook for the commonwealth, Lisa K. Caruso for defendant Martinez, Robert L. Jenkins for defendant Guerra, Eric M. Shamis for defendant Pereira, Mark B. Williams for defendant Davis. VLW 022-8-040, 8 pp.

VLW 022-8-040

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