Is the Harris County Grand Jury commissioner selection system susceptible to abuse?
Petition By Citizens of Harris County, Texas To Improve the Selection of Grand Jury Members by Randomized Methods Please review and sign this petition. It is meant to improve the Harris County Grand Jury System by ensuring qualified grand jurors are selected at random, as opposed to potentially biased, and discriminatory manners that exclude Blacks and Hispanics, as well as Women and Others.
Background: Over half of the commissioners nominating individuals to serve as grand jurors has close ties to the legal system. They included judges, attorneys, court employees, bail bond agents, probation officers and law enforcement officers and less than 10% of the serving grand jurors were Hispanic-surnamed though approximately 33% of the county population was Hispanic (Karson, 2006, p. 3). Black and Women grand jurors face similar, unfavorable odds. “The exclusion of otherwise eligible persons from jury service solely because of their ancestry or national origin is discrimination prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment” (U.S. Supreme Court, in Hernandez v. Texas). In Powers v. Ohio the Supreme Court held that jurors have a right not to be excluded based on their race, yet race-based exclusion continues to stigmatize growing numbers of Americans.
History: Racist Klansmen prevented the indictment of suspected murderers during the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi in the 1960s and that colonial rebels influenced the indictment of British soldiers for murder during the Revolutionary War. Thus, it is suggested that control of the grand jury is effectively the control of justice” (Karson, 2006, p. 4). The concept of being propertied in the system gives one the power to create laws, to decide who will be defined as the law breaker, to use the law to support one’s own interests, or to be able to have the law serve the interests of the “ruling class” (Adler, Mueller & Laufer, 2004). Social power is retained through the political power process (Mann, 1986). While there are differing criminological perspectives on the origins of criminal law, most recognize that the propertied influence the definition of the law. The law, for all intents and purposes, is their property. As such, some states continued to limit those eligible for jury duty to those who were landholders—those who were propertied in the traditional sense of the word (Younger, 1963, in Karson, 2006, p. 4). Chronicle author, Gutheinz (2008) served in the Harris Count Grand Jury system, and termed it “laughable, ” ‘The grand jurors that are chosen in Harris County are too white and too conservative. Most grand juries here don’t even come close to reflecting the ethnic, racial and political makeup of Texas’ most populous county. I know mine didn’t’” (June 1, 2008; too white, too right; minorities; democrats pay unfair price).
Call for Action: The County district courts have continued to use the key-man system and have systematically discriminated against the Hispanic population by limiting their participation in the grand jury process. This failure jeopardizes the assurance of an impartial jury (Holland v. Illinois, 1990) by not allowing a fair cross-section of the populace to be considered for service and it can be considered intentional discrimination as the jury pool selection practice “is susceptible of abuse or is not racially neutral” (Castaneda v. Partida, 430 U.S. at 494, 1977, in Karson, 2006, p. 10).