Monday, August 1, 2016

From the Houston Chronicle: A view from inside a Harris County grand jury - The state's new selection process for grand juries did, indeed, yield a diverse, well-qualified group.

A positive evaluation of one of the criminal justice reforms made in the 84th session of the Texas Legislature.

- Click here for the article.
. . . Judges know that finding 12 grand jurors with diverse backgrounds who could devote two days a week, four to six hours a day for three months is no easy task. Given a larger pool of citizens and thorough questioning, judges are now better able to select a grand jury panel with the qualifications and the diversity that lawmakers and concerned citizens desired.
The grand jury I served on was quite diverse, consisting of more than 40 minorities: African American, Hispanic, and Asian American. 25 percent were under 30 years of age, 40 percent were female, and only 16 percent were retired. Every member of our grand jury showed no hesitation to speak up, to ask questions and to argue his or her side of an issue, no matter how controversial or emotional the cases were.
The new selection process and the outcome the Legislature aimed for worked well with our grand jury. I believe a big part of that success can be attributed to our judge, who spent quite a bit of time during our first meeting questioning prospective grand jurors to determine if there would be obstacles to their devoting the amount of time required to serve effectively. Out of the 12 jurors selected to serve on a grand jury, the law requires that nine must be present to hear cases and to vote to indict or not. Therefore, on any given day, three members of the panel can call in absent for personal or work-related reasons. Occasionally, our jury was delayed because a member arrived late due to business or personal reasons. During that time, no cases could be presented until the required number of jurors was present. Generally, we heard between 80 to 100 cases a day. Therefore, delays or too many absent jurors can contribute to a backlog of cases - a delay in justice.

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