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Ga. Const. art. 6, § 2, para. 6 (1983) requires that venue in all criminal cases must be laid in the county in which the crime was allegedly committed. Ga. Code Ann. § 17-2-2. Venue is a jurisdictional fact, and is an essential element in proving that one is guilty of the crime charged. Like every other material allegation in the indictment, venue must be proved by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt. Proof of venue is a part of the State's case, and the State's failure to prove venue beyond a reasonable doubt renders the verdict contrary to law, without a sufficient evidentiary basis, and warrants reversal.
Defendant Gary Jones was charged with felony murder in the death of individuals from whom his associate had earlier purchased cocaine. At trial, the State failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that venue was proper in the county in which defendant was tried. Defendant was convicted, and appealed.
Should the defendant’s conviction be reversed due to the State’s failure to prove proper venue?
The court reversed the defendant’s conviction because the State failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that venue was proper in the county in which defendant was tried. According to the court, the previously recognized "slight evidence" exception to the requirement to prove venue beyond a reasonable doubt was overruled. The court held that any time a defendant pleaded not guilty to a charge, venue was being challenged, prohibiting application of the "slight evidence" exception. However, since the reversal was on a procedural matter, rather than concerning the facts alleged, the double jeopardy clauses in U.S. Const. amend. V and Ga. Const. art. I, § 1, para. 18 (1983) would not prevent a retrial of the defendant.