Monday, December 2, 2013

Harris County Grand Juries

Last week Harris County grand juries were in the media spotlight.  Below are two hyperlinks to newspaper articles that examined some questionable grand jury practices in Harris County, Texas where Houston is located. In my opinion, the two most disturbing aspects of the Harris County grand jury process are the use of the (1) shooting simulator; and (2) the selection process.

Shooting Simulator: During grand jury orientation, grand jurors are provided a virtual simulation experience in which they play the role of a police officer confronting a suspect.  Many believe that this firearms simulator training has led to grand juries clearing the Harris County Police Department in 288 consecutive shootings.

Selection Process: The state of Texas permits two methods of selecting grand juries.  The first relies on random selection.  The second uses commissioners.  Under the second method, which is commonly used in Harris County, the local district judge appoints between three to five commissioners who pick certain people from the community to become potential grand jurors.  The judge then questions these prospective grand jurors and selects 12 with two alternates.  Not surprisingly, this second method does little to ensure that grand juries will be diversified or representative of the community.

To read more about Harris County grand juries go here and here.

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