People. Progress. Results.

Hawkins: Extended jury duty hours equal diverse juries

Posted by New Leaders Council 4 Admin on August 01, 2015 at 11:33 AM

Originally published on the Houston Chronicle by Kristen Hawkins, NLC Houston founding member, on July 31, 2015.

Extending the hours for jury duty for both grand juries and petit juries will increase public participation and allow for a more diverse jury pool.

Participation in the jury system is key to our justice system. Lately, news reports have shown that many citizens fear they are underrepresented in the justice system, and this underrepresentation causes distrust. This distrust prompted the Texas Legislature to look at grand jury reform in its most recent session and to pass legislation eliminating the "pick-a-pal" system in favor of a more random selection.

As reported by Houston Chronicle Metro columnist Lisa Falkenberg in numerous columns over the past year, replacing the key man system with a more random method is a good start in trying to make grand juries more diverse. But, as Falkenberg has mentioned in her column and on KUHF-FM's "Houston Matters," this change alone is likely not enough.

Both the United States and Texas Constitutions guarantee citizens a trial by a jury of their peers, yet many people cannot and do not participate in the system for financial reasons. This skews the economic diversity - and consequently, the racial diversity - of jury panels. Other potential changes for increasing diversity that Falkenberg has suggested include increasing juror pay, increasing education about the role of the grand jury and allowing grand juries to meet on weekends and in the evenings. This last idea - meeting on weekends and evenings - is worth further exploration, not just for grand juries, but for all juries.

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