A bill introduced by a Republican congressman would allow January 6 defendants and other out-of-towners facing trials in Washington, D.C., the right to move their cases out of the 92% Democrat jurisdiction in order to secure a jury of their peers.
The bill by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), a former judge, says that “in the criminal trial of any individual for the commission of a criminal offense in the District of Columbia, the individual on trial may choose venue for the proceedings and trial to be in the district court for the district and division embracing that individual’s primary residence.”
The legislation is called the Matthew Lawrence Perna Act of 2022 after a man who killed himself because prosecutors wanted to put him in prison for years following his nonviolent presence in the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“He was a guy that graduated at the top of his class at Penn State. He liked to travel to other countries and teach. He was a gentle soul, he liked Bernie Sanders, but then he liked the message of Donald Trump better, and he went to the Capitol on January 6,” Gohmert told Newsmax. “He went into the Capitol without anybody trying to obstruct his entrance, he did nothing violent, he never has, yet he was a target by the FBI’s shock and awe campaign in which they used Gestapo tactics.”
Gohmert, who is retiring this year, said “The Democrats aren’t going to allow it to come to the floor before January 3, but it was important to file it to get that marker down so that when the Republicans have the majority after January 3, this should be pushed.”
Politically-charged cases often involve people from across the U.S., but also enough nexus to Washington, D.C. that prosecutors in the Biden administration appear to have taken to using D.C. grand juries and juries to secure easy indictments and convictions. D.C. juries have overwhelmingly convicted January 6 defendants, for example, while acquitting Michael Sussman, a Democrat lawyer who prosecutors said lied to the FBI in relation to Donald Trump’s purported involvement with Russia.
Judges have denied January 6 defendants’ motion for a venue change despite arguments that the jury pool in the overwhelmingly liberal city was prejudiced and did not represent a jury of one’s peers.
Juli Haller, a lawyer who has represented January 6 defendants, told The Daily Wire that change of venue is “a remedy so important it appears twice in rules based on Due Process, rules that are quickly getting whittled away by case law diluting the rule in exchange for what, convenience?”
“A right to an impartial trial is a constitutional right, but courts in recent years have steered away from granting change of venue motions to the theory of a good jury voir dire,” she said. That refers to the process where attorneys have opportunities to reject potential jury members in an attempt to get a balanced jury—but in D.C., which voted 92% for Joe Biden, securing a jury whose political leanings mirror those of the U.S. is still impossible.
An attorney for Thomas Edward Caldwell argued in August 2021 that Attorney General Merrick Garland has compared January 6 to the Oklahoma City bombing–which the DOJ’s prosecutors, including Garland at the time, agreed to move out of Oklahoma because it could not provide the defendants a fair trial.
“The outrageous assertion by politicians and D.C.-based media that Caldwell and his codefendants are ‘white supremacists,’ ‘white nationalists,’ ‘racists,’ and other despicable monikers is disgusting and completely guarantees that a truly unbiased jury will be impossible to seat. These disgusting racial attacks are particularly prejudicial in the District, where just under half of residents are African American,” a legal pleading said.
It said the government’s reference to the precedent for politicized trials taking place in D.C. dating back to the Nixon era is no longer applicable.
“The Government’s citation to trials involving H.R. Haldeman, Oliver North, John Poindexter, and Scooter Libby is unpersuasive. First, Haldeman, North, and Poindexter were tried more than 30 years ago, when the District was far less hostile to those on the Right,” it said.
“The Government’s citation to the Roger Stone case actually strengthens Caldwell’s transfer argument. After Stone’s verdict, internet sleuths discovered that the jury foreperson, contrary to her voir dire answers, was an obvious left-wing partisan who hid her disdain of Trump and his associates behind vague, misleading answers on her jury questionnaire,” it added.
Prosecutors said this argument was “offensive,” writing “The defendants go on to make sweeping and offensive claims about District residents and their (allegedly homogenous) viewpoints, casting both aspersions and a wide net in their claim that so many District residents have such an ‘antipathy towards Trump and his supporters’ that it would be ‘impossible’ to locate impartial jurors here… His assertions that media coverage ‘ha[s] prejudiced the potential District jury pool’ are based entirely on his own speculation.”
Guy Reffit asked to move his trial to Texas, writing that “Prejudice requiring a change of venue is presumed when widespread, pervasive prejudice against the defendant and/or extensive prejudicial pretrial publicity saturates the community where he or she is to be tried… In some cases, a court can determine that the potential jury pool is irredeemably biased, when the alleged crime results in ‘effects . . . on [a] community [that] are so profound and pervasive that no detailed discussion of the [pretrial publicity and juror partiality] evidence is necessary.’”
“Actual prejudice may be shown when a large proportion of prospective jurors are dismissed for cause, because that demonstrates a pattern of prejudice that gives little weight to the remaining jurors’ assurances of impartiality,” his lawyer wrote.
In another case, prosecutors said that “As Judge Amy Berman Jackson concluded last week in denying a motion for change of venue… the defendants’ arguments are “largely predicated on sweeping, unsupported assertions about a city [they do] not appear to know or understand.”