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Harris County DA Criticizes Grand Jury Selection System

The recent high-profile deaths of several people at the hands of police officers — and the lack of indictments — has led to a national conversation about fairness in the criminal justice system. Now, the lead prosecutor in Harris County has weighed in on at least one part of that discussion.

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District Attorney Devon Anderson. Photo taken on October 30, 2014.

 

District Attorney Devon Anderson wrote in the Houston Chronicle that she could no longer remain neutral because the public was losing trust in the system.

Sandra Guerra Thompson is with the University of Houston Law Center. She says Anderson’s position as DA of the largest county in Texas could lead to reforms.

“It sometimes takes a while for legislators and other public officials to bring real change,” says Thompson. “Now the legislature’s back, and I think the time is right for this kind of change.”

In the current system, judges appoint grand jury commissioners, who then pick others to serve on the panel. Critics say that leads to juries that are too similar in terms of demographics and ultimately less fair. Proponents of the current system argue the time commitment makes it difficult to find jurors, but Thompson says random selection works.

“The argument that it’s too hard to do just doesn’t hold up in the face of 48 states plus the federal government already using the random system,” she says.

State Senator John Whitmire of Houston has filed a bill create a random grand jury selection system.

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