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New Grand Jury Selection Law Goes Into Effect In Texas

The new law eliminates the controversial “pick-a-pal” system.

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Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 2150 into law in June. State Rep. Carol Alvarado from Houston introduced the bill.

“Texas will finally have a criminal justice system that is fair and just for all,” Alvarado said at a news conference in front of the Harris County Criminal Courthouse Monday.

Grand juries determine if there is enough evidence to charge a suspect with a crime. Until now, judges selected so-called jury commissioners to pick friends or colleagues to serve on a grand jury. Some call that a pick-a-pal or key man system.

Now it will be a randomized process, closer to how trial juries are selected.

Johnny Mata with the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice, an umbrella group for different civil rights groups, said it’s a historical day.

“We need transparency in our criminal justice system and this is one way to achieve that as we move forward,” he said.

Sandra Guerra Thompson, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said the old system excluded too many people who should be able to serve.

“If you just imagine trying to run around and find people willing to serve – the tendency is going to be to go back to the same groups over and over where one has success,” Thompson said.

In Harris County, grand jurors serve for three months at a time and are asked to commit for two days every week. That time commitment can make it difficult for some people to participate.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson supports the new law.

Earlier this year, she told Craig Cohen of Houston Matters that one Harris County judge has already been working with randomly selected grand jurors.

“I don’t know how we get young people involved; that’s to me the more difficult issue,” Anderson said. “But he did not have trouble calling over people from the jury assembly room and managing to find 12 diverse people willing to serve for three months.”

Texas is the last state to abandon the pick-a-pal system for grand juries.

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Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters and the Houston Press Club. Florian is a native of Germany. His studies...

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