H. Robinson, Esq. Assistant Public Defender
Katherine C. Butler, Esq. Delaware Department of Justice
RICHARD F. STOKES, JUDGE
the Court's decision on Defendant, Richard Maddux's
("Defendant"), Motion for Change of Venue under
Superior Court Criminal Rule 21(a). The Court has considered the
parties' submissions and given counsel the opportunity to
comment on cases provided by the Court. For the reasons
expressed below, Defendant's Motion is DENIED.
February 14, 2017, Defendant was charged with the following
five offenses: Theft of a Firearm, Theft $1500 or Greater,
Burglary Second Degree, Possession of a Firearm by a Person
Prohibited, and Transfer of a Firearm to a Person Without a
Background Check. The alleged victim of these offenses is
Jose Sanchez ("Sanchez"), a Delaware Capitol Police
employee, currently assigned to conduct security screening at
the main entrance of the Sussex County Courthouse.
Technically, Sanchez is not a Superior Court employee.
However, Defendant believes that, due to Sanchez's
visibility at the Courthouse and his reputation for being a
well-liked member of the Courthouse community, there is a
reasonable likelihood that he will suffer prejudice if tried
in the Sussex County Courthouse. Therefore, Defendant has
moved for the trial to be transferred to New Castle County.
Defendant moved for a transfer of venue under Rule 21(a).
However, part (a) is intended to apply in situations where
"pervasive pretrial publicity has inflamed passions in
the host community past the breaking
point." The defense has a heavy burden to
establish that the pretrial publicity has been so
"extensive and sensational in nature" that
Defendant cannot possibly receive an impartial
trial. No showing has been made to convince the
Court that such circumstances exist. Therefore, the Court
treats this Motion as having been made under Rule 21(b). Part
(b) contemplates a transfer of venue that is necessitated out
of convenience to those involved in the trial and by
the interest of justice. Neither criterion is met by the
circumstances at hand; thus, the trial will be held in Sussex
fact, it would be inconvenient for defense counsel and the
witnesses for the trial to be held in New Castle County. This
is a Sussex County based crime. All pertinent witnesses and
current defense counsel are located in the area. No transfer
is appropriate on this basis.
crux of Defendant's argument is the idea that
Sanchez's employment at the Sussex County Courthouse,
which charges him with the responsibility of protecting all
who work in the Courthouse, as well as his generally positive
reputation for geniality, introduces bias if the trial takes
place in Sussex County. Additionally, Sanchez comes into
contact with local attorneys and court employees on a
regular, if not daily, basis, as these individuals pass
through security any time they enter the Courthouse. In
essence, Sanchez's status and good character so permeate
the environment at the Courthouse as to render it unlikely
that Defendant would be able to receive a fair trial in
Sussex County. If this were true, it would be against the
interest of justice to allow the trial to proceed in Sussex
the Court believes that the pertinent case law does not
support a transfer of venue. The case United States v.
Walker is informative. In Walker, the First
Circuit considered whether a defendant received a fair trial
in the courthouse where the victim, also his wife, worked as
a court reporter. The defendant argued that "jurors may
have given extra credence to Amy's [victim's]
testimony because of her position and because of testimony
that Judge Fuste (then the Chief Judge of Puerto Rico's
federal district court) had 'vouched' for Amy in the
Michigan custody proceedings..." The Court held that he had
received a fair trial, stating that "[t]he mere fact
that the victim of the crime is a court employee in the
district is not, in and of itself, a reason sufficient to
compel a transfer of venue."
the First Circuit considered United States v.
Wright, which held that a transfer of venue was
appropriate because the crimes had occurred in the courthouse
and numerous courthouse employees who may have known or
worked with the victim were to be called at
witnesses.However, Wright was distinguished
on the basis that the crimes at issue in Walker did
not take place in the courthouse and that only one courthouse
employee, the victim herself, was to testify. Here, the same
distinctions can be made, and the Walker reasoning
is more persuasive.
is not prejudiced by holding the trial at the Sussex County
Courthouse simply because Sanchez is a well-known and
well-liked courthouse employee. Furthermore, out of an
abundance of caution, the Court has asked and understands
that Sanchez will be assigned elsewhere during the trial.
Sanchez will be permitted in the Courtroom only while giving
his testimony, during the closing arguments, and for the
reading of the verdict. Furthermore, Sanchez will not mention
his employment during his testimony, and he may only wear
civilian clothes to the trial. Lastly, the Court is willing
to consider cautionary jury instructions, if the parties
believe additional measures are necessary.
the foregoing, there is no reasonable basis to believe that
Defendant will not receive a fair trial in the Sussex County