Legal experts say that an idea floated by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida about transferring criminal cases out of Washington, D.C., is a flawed concept.
Mr. DeSantis made the unusual suggestion in the moments after his rival, former President Donald J. Trump, was indicted on Tuesday for trying to overturn the 2020 election, writing on Twitter that “we need to enact reforms so that Americans have the right to remove cases from Washington, D.C. to their home districts.” (Both men call Florida home.)
“It’s going to be hard to square with the Constitution,” said Elizabeth Earle Beske, an associate law professor at American University in Washington, D.C.
Several scholars and lawyers noted that the Constitution says that trials “shall be held in the state where the said crimes shall have been committed.” The federal rules of criminal procedure further specify that the proceedings be held in the district of the alleged offense.
Defendants can already seek a change of venue for their cases under the current law, the experts pointed out, but the bar is high: They must demonstrate to the court that they cannot otherwise obtain a fair and impartial trial.
Mr. DeSantis, in echoing Mr. Trump’s “swamp” pejorative for Washington, seemed to suggest that his rival could not get a fair trial in the nation’s capital. Bryan Griffin, a campaign spokesman for Mr. DeSantis who went to Harvard Law School and previously practiced law, said in an email that the governor’s idea for moving cases had merit.
“Congress can certainly change the rules of criminal procedure to allow defendants to change venues out of D.C. for politically charged cases,” he said.
But that premise was challenged by David B. Rivkin Jr., who served in the White House Counsel’s Office and the Department of Justice during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and practices appellate and constitutional law in Washington.
“I think it’s extremely unfortunate to characterize the D.C. jury pool in this fashion,” he said. “Whatever you think about the U.S. government, the notion that means that people who live in the district can be accused of being part of the swamp, to me, is neither fair nor appropriate.”
Arthur Hellman, a law professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, suggested that Mr. DeSantis had “not thought that through completely.”
“Criminal venue was so important to the framers,” of the Constitution, he said.