The indictment of Governor Rick Perry by a randomly selected grand jury prompted the Texas Tribune to look at the way Texas grand juries are typically selected. At first glance, nothing about a randomly selected grand jury raises any questions. However, many would be surprised to learn that’s not typically how many areas of the Lonestar State choose to handle their grand jury selection.
Texas allows judges in each county to pick between methods of random selection and what is called the key man system. A large number of counties in Texas actually use the key man system, or "pick-a-pal" method as critics often refer to it. This type of selection involves the judge appointing a commissioner compiling lists of anywhere from 15-40 people to be summoned. The name refers to the fact, that there’s a very high chance commissioners could know the individuals they are summoning to serve on grand jury. This of course may not be the case, but is in completely in contrast to the thousands of randomly selected names generated by the state for jury trial service. Qualifications for the individuals chosen are set out in Art. 19.08 of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
Another interesting note, is that unlike the summons many hope to avoid, the grand jurors in a key man system have shown a level of commitment beforehand to the demanding call of grand jury service. In some places grand juror service can be a couple times a week for up to three months. The Harris County District Courts website explains the qualifications and process in Harris County (which follows a key man system). The Harris County page also contains a link to an application to apply for grand jury service . Through this grand jury selection process jurors are still paid their initial six dollars for their first day’s service, and $28 everyday thereafter.
Deciding which method to use is largely a matter of experience, but many are saying that due to not only perceived bias, but also a very real possibility of bias in a key man system, it’s time for Texas Courts to uniformly adopt random jury selection across all stages of the process. It begs the question though, if we have so much fuss about jury service for the trial, how will we get fair grand jurors who have been asked to commit themselves to two days a week for up to three months?
There’s strong opposition from supporters of key man systems, and they argue that done correctly, “the way we’ve always done it works well.” Further, to take the time to voir dire a panel, and find 12 people to commit to be fair and impartial for three months, while they hear case after case could potentially slow the already case heavy courts.
Arguments on both sides are strong, which make it clear the usually super-secret grand jury process need be discussed more in light of more concern with juror behavior and bias. Additionally, I suppose we can add grand jury analysis, alongside this, to the list of things that came out of the Perry indictment.
*For a prosecutor’s take on the grand jury proceeding process you can also visit this article from the Texas District and County Attorneys Association: http://www.tdcaa.com/journal/grand-jury-where-community-meets-law