Houston Matters

How Do You Make Grand Juries in Harris County More Diverse?

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson wants to see a change in how grand juries are selected. Grand juries of 12 people determine whether enough evidence exists to formally charge a suspect with a crime. Currently in Texas, judges are tasked with impaneling them, but it’s a time-consuming process. So, some name friends as “grand […]

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson wants to see a change in how grand juries are selected. Grand juries of 12 people determine whether enough evidence exists to formally charge a suspect with a crime. Currently in Texas, judges are tasked with impaneling them, but it’s a time-consuming process. So, some name friends as “grand jury commissioners” who, in turn, pick friends to fill the other spots. The end result: panels with similar demographic and income backgrounds who may not reflect the population from which the suspect hails.

DA Anderson says “the public is losing confidence in the grand jury system.” But if what is derisively characterized as the “pick a pal” approach doesn’t work, what would? Judges says they already have a hard time impaneling grand juries to address the 40,000 felony charges filed in Houston each year.

Today, we welcome your thoughts about grand juries in Texas.

We talk with Harris County DA Devon Anderson. We also hear from State Sen. John Whitmire, who favors selecting grand juries from a randomized pool of citizens and has proposed a bill this legislative session to make the change. And we talk with Dr. Larry Karson, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at University of Houston Downtown, who studied the “key man” process more than a decade ago.

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