Years ago, I was employed as an assistant district attorney in a DA’s office out in West Texas. From time to time, I would oversee the grand jury and the presentation of felony cases for indictment. At the first of every month, the county would summon potential jurors from a random selection process to serve on the grand jury. The first fourteen (twelve to serve as grand jurors and two as alternates) who were not disqualified by statute were seated on the grand jury.
Those fourteen citizens were always different. Different ethnicity. Different gender. Different religions. Different socio-economic status. Most importantly, different political parties. The goal was to create an impartial jury of peers to review the evidence in criminal cases and determine whether probable cause existed for indictment.
You can imagine my surprise when I moved to the DFW area and discovered jurisdictions here which used the other method of selecting grand jurors.
Article 19.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows the “pick a pal” method wherein judges can hand pick “jury commissioners” who individually select citizens to serve on the grand jury. As you can imagine, there has been a serious influence of politics on the grand jury process a result of this practice. It’s hard to have an impartial grand jury when everybody comes from the same political party and economic sector of society.
Fortunately, House Bill 2150 was signed into law last month. On September 1, 2015, the “pick a pal” process will no longer be an option. Instead, the newly revised Article 19.01 will require all jurisdictions to apply the random selection process to the grand jury selection process.
This change is long overdue. An accused’s right to an impartial jury should be the same at the grand jury as it is at trial.