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Why it matters if Donald Trump is charged in Florida or Washington (or both)

Crimes need to be charged where they allegedly occurred. Prosecutors can’t afford to choose the wrong venue.


UPDATE (June 9, 2023, 10:49 a.m. ET): A federal grand jury in Florida indicted Donald Trump on Thursday on seven charges, including conspiracy to obstruct, NBC News reported.

News of a Florida federal grand jury hearing evidence in the Donald Trump classified documents probe raises a host of questions that might not be answered until we see what charges, if any, are brought — and where.

But the location in which any charges are brought — whether in Florida, Washington, D.C., or elsewhere — is more than just a matter of trial strategy. It has huge legal implications that prosecutors can’t afford to mess up, lest they risk the case getting thrown out.

That’s because of something known as venue. It's a legal requirement that charges be brought where the crimes allegedly occurred. Sometimes that’s simple — for example, if there’s a murder at a specific place, then its location gives the answer. Other times it’s less simple — for example, in the Trump probe, which involves activity over a period of time implicating multiple places, among them Florida and Washington. Grand jurors have reportedly heard evidence in both locations as part of Jack Smith's investigation into Trump's handling of classified materials.

The common wisdom is that Trump would rather be tried in Florida than in Washington, given he could have a more favorable jury pool and judges in the Sunshine State. Of course, facing criminal charges wouldn’t be a picnic anywhere, and the Supreme Court could resolve any appeals.

At any rate, while Smith may prefer Washington, the venue issue will factor into his charging decisions — and likely already has. Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman explained on “Deadline: White House” Tuesday that if prosecutors choose the wrong venue, then the whole case can go away.

So if Trump is charged only in Florida — or in both Florida and Washington — it could be due to that technical, but highly important, venue requirement.

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