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Starting September 1st, You Could Serve On A Grand Jury

A new law that takes effect September 1, got its start in Harris County. The Grand Jury Reform bill will shed light on what used to be a jury selection process plagued by cronyism.

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House Floor – HB 2150: Rep. Turner (HD-139) On Grand Jury Reform – May 15, 2015

 

Texas is the only state that still uses the pick-a-pal system for criminal cases. California uses pick-a-pal also, but only for civil cases. Pick-a-pal is exactly what it sounds like: a judge picks a friend or colleague to head a grand jury panel. That person, in turn, selects more friends or colleagues to fill out the panel.

But earlier this year, Texas lawmakers from both sides of the aisle rallied around grand jury reform. State Rep. Sylvester Turner argued for the legislation on the House floor.

“We cannot have a criminal justice system where many people believe the process is not fair, and expect them to accept the end result,” Sylvester said.

The reform was largely prompted by a series of blistering columns by the Houston Chronicle’s Lisa Falkenberg, who won a Pulitzer primarily for the work. Houston lawmakers took up the cause, and reform legislation passed with little opposition.

University of Houston Law Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson said come September 1, anyone in Texas who gets a jury summons could end up on a grand jury.

“Now we’re just going to the same system that is used in the federal system and every other state, which is a random selection much like what you would have for a jury trial,” Thompson said.

In Harris County, 20 new grand juries are selected every year. Each panel serves two days a week for three months and can hear evidence in mulitple cases.

 

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Our reporting partners at the Texas Tribune have compiled a list of 31 new laws taking effect on September first. Click here to read more.

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Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Executive Producer for News

Laurie Johnson leads daily news coverage for HPM. She helps reporters craft and sharpen their stories on tight deadlines, with the aim of getting the most relevant and current information into local newscasts. Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. She is...

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