Change of Venue Motion Granted in Mehserle Case

Oct 20, 2009

In the highly-publicized trial of former BART police officer accused of murdering Oakland resident Oscar Grant, the defense’s motion to have the trial moved out of Alameda County has been granted. Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson ruled that the defense had shown that Johannes Mehserle could not get a fair trial in Alameda County for the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant on the platform of BART’s Fruitvale Station in Oakland early New Year’s Day. A hearing is to be held to determine where the trial should be held.

In support of his ruling, Judge Jacobson wrote that: “The incident is viewed by many as being a case about race relations between the police and minority communities . . . In essence, this case is an allegation of murder under color of law, inseparably entwined with a broad-scale political controversy.”

The centerpiece of the defense’s argument to move the trial was a telephone survey it commissioned of 397 Alameda County residents. It found that 98 percent of those polled had heard of the case. The defense also used an “expert” in support of its motion for change of venue. However, Judge Jacobson criticized some of the expert’s opinions and “findings” and wrote that he was left “with the uncomfortable concern” that the expert “might be trying too hard to please defense counsel.” The judge also reminded the parties that “Systematic exclusion of any cognizable group of jurors, because of a party’s pre-judgment that there exists a group bias, is wrong.”