Abbott to decide on grand jury reform

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Greg Abbott has a bill on his desk that will eliminate the good old boy system of selecting grand jurors – if he signs it…

Austin – The 84th Legislature of the State of Texas sent a strong message to police and prosecutors today.

In a stunning move that is at least half a century in the making, legislators voted out of both houses SB 135, a law that will completely eliminate the Grand Jury Commissioner system of appointing grand jurors.

A companion bill by a member of the House of Representative was tabled earlier this month when members of the lower chamber┬áproposed an amendment to exempt counties of less than half a million population from an alternative system of random selection of anywhere from 20 to 125 registered voters from the “jury wheel” for questioning as to their qualifications to serve.

The new law was crafted by Sen. Jeff Whitmire of Houston, a Democrat. Inner city constituents have long clamored for an end to rubber-stamp grand juries who routinely no-bill police officers accused of murder or wealthy suburbanites charged with crimes that would net a poor person years of misery when convicted.

Reached for comment, retired Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon, who in his career investigated many such cases when asked to by local law enforcement agencies, said, “In my experience, which is considerable at this point, the reason for having a grand jury is so the members can have an independent investigation, so that they can determine the evidence. In my experience, that does not always occur.”

Ranger Cawthon resigned as Chief Deputy of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office on October 1, 2014, citing “fundamental” differences in his philosophy of law enforcement with Sheriff Parnell McNamara.

Reached for comment, staff members in Senator Whitmire’s office were in conference with him, busy trying to determine if a conference committee will have to do further study of the measure.

If not, the Governor will have the option of either signing the new law into effect, ignoring it for 30 days and it will automatically become the law, or using the power of the veto. In that case, both houses of the Legislature would have the option of attempting to override the veto, or simply wait until the next session to make another attempt, something that historically has occurred each and every time a Legislature has attempted to alter the good old boy system of the organization and selection of grand juries in Texas, as promulgated by the Code of Criminal Procedure.

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