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28

How to Pick a Grand Jury Pursuant to HB 2150

By Judge Alfonso Charles

G

rand juries were a hot button issue during the 84

th

Legislative session this past spring. Numerous bills

were introduced concerning grand juries. These bills

included provisions from professional grand jurors, to

what cases the grand jury could hear, to the formation

of the grand jury.

One of the most important and controversial bills that passed

during the session was HB 2150 by Representative Alvarado.

This high profile bill amends Chapter 19 of the Code of Criminal

Procedure concerning the formation and composition of the grand

jury. This act establishes new requirements for a grand jury and

abolishes the use of the grand jury commissioner or “key man”

system. The new law requires that all grand juries be summoned

and empaneled using the same system as petit juries. While some

of the proposed amendments to these bills provided for some

leeway, there are no exceptions to this new statute.

Under the new law, the court must summon between 20 and 125 prospective jurors for the panel.

Further, the grand jury panel must be “fair cross section of the population area served by the court.”

Since the court must empanel the jurors in the same manner as a petit jury, the court would be

justified in selecting a panel from a central jury pool or summoning a separate panel for a grand jury.

Article 19.23

1

establishes the questions to be asked of each prospective grand juror. It now adds

a question concerning a conviction for misdemeanor theft, to bring this section in accord with the

qualifications under section 19.08.

2

In addition, the bill amends Article 19.31

3

and expands the grounds for challenging a potential

grand juror. Such new grounds include, but are not limited to:

1. The grand juror is insane;

2. Medical conditions;

3. The grand juror is a witness or a target in the investigation (must be made

ex parte

and

reviewed in camera by the court);

4. The grand juror served on the petit jury of the offense or conduct this grand jury is investigating;

5. The grand juror has a bias or prejudice against or for the defendant or the person the grand

jury is investigating; or

6. The grand juror has a bias or prejudice against any phase of law upon which the state is

entitled to rely for an indictment.

Article 19.26

4

sets out how the grand jury is to be impaneled. Once the court has at least 16

qualified panel members and there is not a challenge to the array or a panel member, the court

“shall select twelve fair and impartial persons to serve as grand jurors and four additional persons

to serve as alternate grand jurors. The grand jurors and the alternate grand jurors shall be

randomly

selected

from a

fair cross section of the population of the area served by the court

.”

There have been numerous disputes and suggestions by judges and stakeholders on how the

court should select and impanel the grand jurors. Some judges are concerned about “hand picking”

a grand jury. Others are concerned about how to insure fair cross sections of the community. Senator

John Whitmire, the main Senate proponent for these changes, wrote a letter in response to some