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Elizabeth Smart Trial Staying in Utah

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By Laura Strachan, Esq. on November 02, 2010 7:15 AM

Change of venue denied. The Elizabeth Smart trial is staying in Utah, according to the Washington Post. The decision was issued by U.S. District Judge Dave Kimball after reviewing whether defendant Brian David Mitchell would get a fair trial in the state.

Judge Kimball reviewed potential jurors' responses to a 41-page questionnaire and ruled that, although some jurors may be prone to prejudice, there were more than enough to fill a jury that would be "undecided or open-minded." Both Mitchell, and his wife Wanda Eileen Barzee were charged with abducting Smart from her Salt Lake City home. The large amount of media attention surrounding Elizabeth Smart's abduction led to Mitchell's argument for moving the trial to another state.

The court recently determined that Mitchell, 56, was competent to stand trial (he claimed he was insane at the time of the abduction). Now that the venue location has been settled, the trial appears ready to begin. The eight-year delay may finally be over. This marks the third time that Judge Kimball has ruled that Brian David Mitchell could receive a fair trial in Utah.

The structural guarantee to a fair trial is a hallmark of the American justice system. Mitchell's concern was that passions, rather than unbiased judgments, would dominate the decision in his case. Changing venues based on this type of concern is not uncommon in high publicity cases. In the end, it is a judicial determination as to whether a particular jury will be able to render an impartial decision. The inquiry is not whether jurors have heard of the case, but whether they are open and receptive to evidence from both sides and will make their determination accordingly.

In addition to changing venue, prejudice can also be challenged in the decision, although it is much easier to assuage any concerns before trial. Elizabeth Smart has taken a temporary leave from her mission with the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints in France to testify at her trial.

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