It was a long day in the courthouse. One that started with the question “Is it reasonably likely the defendant can have a fair trial in Sutter County?” And ended with an answer, “No, it is not likely.”
For those who just want to get to the nuts and bolts of it, the request for a change of venue has been granted and the next date on the calendar is Friday, January 29 at 9 a.m. It will be a status check on finding a new venue, and it will take place at the Sutter County Superior Courthouse. All procedural hearings leading up to the jury trial will continue to take place in Sutter County. We will update you as we know more.
For those who want a little more background on the day, keep reading! Here’s a summary from a single observer’s point of view – mine! Please note, for complete details, transcripts can be ordered from the court by emailing email@example.com.
So, today. The defense attorney presented an expert witness, Edward J. Bronson, via video to present in favor of the case for change of venue for the jury trial. Much of the morning was spent establishing the expertise of the witness, reviewing his credentials as a lawyer, educator, and knowledge of pre-trial publicity and venue changes, and service on high-profile cases. The list was long and his experience vast, as it should be. Bronson let the court know that this would be his final court appearance, because at 90 years of age it was getting more difficult and time to fully retire.
He was able to set the stage for the court in listing out the criteria that is evaluated in venue change requests, including:
Nature of the crime and gravity of the punishment
Social (recognition) of the defendant
Social status (recognition) of the victim
Size of the community/Pre-trial publicity
In cases with pre-trial publicity, he will also often times conduct a survey to gauge the impact in the community. Which, ultimately, was a strategy employed here. Interestingly, upon an initial review of local newspapers (Appeal Democrat and the Sacramento Bee), Bronson found the traditional publicity coverage to be marginal. And he explained it wasn’t until he broke his hip over the summer and was under the care of a nurse from Marysville who was very familiar with, and very passionate about the case, did he change his mind and think a survey might be needed.
The court was presented with a copy of the survey, though for those of us in the audience, and apparently even for those with copies, it was a little tough to follow along. There were several versions, missing pages, miscommunications about which exhibits and questions were being referred to, and Siri interrupted saying she didn’t understand a few times, too… but here’s the gist of it. I think.
An independent firm called Research Strategies, Inc. prepared the survey in collaboration with Bronson, and conducted the actual interviews using a purchased list of Sutter County residents who could be potential jurors. Approximately 300 individuals were surveyed.
~83% of respondents were familiar with the case
~54% of those respondents thought Addison was definitely guilty, and
~25% thought she was probably guilty
There were other questions and findings, but these seemed to be the main points. And Bronson stated these sentiments were unusually high, in his opinion. Leading to his recommendation that a change of venue was necessary.
The People opposed the motion, and asked about/pointed out several discrepancies in the survey and evidence presented. Including how the research sample was obtained. For instance, only 2% of respondents were from Yuba City and of all of those surveyed, 60.5% didn't know what city they lived in or closest to. The judge agreed there were questions and irregularities in the survey. Though in considering the criteria discussed earlier, her assessments were:
Nature and gravity - while serious, not so sensational to warrant a change of venue
Social (recognition) of the defendant - no celebrity status, does not warrant a change of venue
Social status (recognition) of the victim - no status prior, but posthumously, perhaps
Size of the community, publicity - has been significant, likely warrants change
The judge said it was her opinion that this particular case has permeated the community, and as such, in this case, in the Sutter County community, at this time, it was reasonably unlikely that a fair and impartial trial could be held for the defendant, Constance Addison.
With the decision the judge stated she could not ignore the community sympathy for the Flores family and the coming together with community events and fundraisers evident on social media and in the news, nor the passion and number of comments and engagements with stories posted on local news Facebook pages, such as Yuba Sutter News and (Yuba-Sutter & Marysville) Accidents & Fire, Crimes Only. as recently as December 2020.
“Change of venue is the transfer of a legal action from one county to another county for trial. In criminal cases a change of venue is permitted if, for example, the court believes the defendant cannot receive a fair trial in a given county. Reasons for changes of venue include pretrial publicity, bias, political atmosphere, and any other circumstance that the parties believe would prevent them from obtaining a fair trial in the county in which the case was originally filed.” - Change of Venue in California Fact Sheet (www.courts.ca.gov)
by Becky Repka (Alec's Aunt)