Texas might be on the verge of doing something it should have done years ago.
It might dramatically reform the way many of the state’s 254 counties select members to sit on a grand jury.
Let’s hold to the cheers until it clears the Texas Legislature and lands on Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
The Texas House of Representatives has approved Senate Bill 135. It would require grand juries to be chosen the way trial juries are picked: randomly.
The current system allows state district judges to impanel grand juries using a jury commissioner system. The judge picks a jury commissioner, who then looks for friends, acquaintances or just plain folks he or she knows to serve on a grand jury.
Here’s where I make my full disclosure. I once served on a Randall County grand jury. A neighbor who happens to be a friend asked me to serve. I said “yes.” I then was seated by 181st District Judge John Board, along with other grand jurors. We met for the next three months and heard criminal complaints presented by the Criminal District Attorney’s Office.
Did that grand jury work well? Yes.
However, there remains the potential problem of friends picking friends to serve on grand juries. Heck, even judges pick friends to serve as jury commissioners. Cronyism can — and does, on occasion — run amok.
As the Texas Tribune reports: “Critics of the ‘pick-a-pal’ system, an uncommon practice nationwide, say it could lead to conflicts of interest. The debate over the legislation has unfolded amid outrage nationwide that grand juries have failed to indict police officers in shootings of unarmed men.”
A random selection method does not diminish the quality of the grand jury that hears criminal complaints and decides whether to indict someone for an alleged crime.
Look at it this way: If a randomly selected trial jury can decide whether someone lives or dies if he or she is convicted of a capital crime, then a similarly chosen grand jury can decide whether that person should stand trial in the first place.