Crossing Eight Mile: Juries of the Vicinage and County-Line Criminal Buffer Statutes
MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 02-17
64 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2005 Last revised: 13 Apr 2016
Many states have buffer statutes that allow crimes committed near a county line to be prosecuted in either county, even when the location of the crime is clear. In a striking example of this, a Detroit resident was tried in the suburbs for brawling with suburban police officers at his home in Detroit. This Article discusses the history and surveys the use of these buffers, which range in size from a hundred feet to a whole mile. The Article then critiques them as a matter of law and policy. It concludes by using the treatment of these statutes as evidence of courts' disregard for community-centered theories of local jury trials.
The policy argument is that other statutes can solve the problems that buffers purport to address, and without encouraging forum shopping or disrespecting the institution of the local jury.
The argument from law is that buffers conflict with the principle that trial must be by a jury of the vicinage, i.e., from the place where the crime was committed. This principle is merely traditional in some states but it is mandated by state constitutions in others, with place specifically defined as county. In either case, local juries are useful, and county lines matter. A brawl in Detroit between a citizen and suburban police officers could certainly play differently to a Detroit jury than to a suburban one.
The Article concludes by using the judicial treatment of these statutes as evidence that courts reject a community-centered theory of local jury trials. Some theorists have argued that local juries are important not just to criminal defendants but to the communities themselves, because they allow those communities to govern themselves. However, both courts that have affirmed and courts that have struck down buffer statutes show that, in practice, vicinage is not considered from this community-centered perspective.
Keywords: Constitutional Law, Vicinage, Juries, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Counties
JEL Classification: K10, K14, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation