Calls for Grand Jury Reform Underway

Protest against judicial system

BY: DeWayne Charleston

Dean of Senate & Defense Attorney Demands Change

HOUSTON – As 2014 comes to a close, perhaps no story is bigger than those surrounding grand juries. A grand jury even handed down an indictment on the sitting Texas Governor, Rick Perry.

Grand juries no-billed a Ferguson, Missouri police officer and another in New York City. Just last week, Houston Police officer, Juvento Castro, who shot and killed 26-year-old unarmed Jordan Baker last January, was no-billed by a Harris County grand jury.
For weeks protest have spread around the country addressing grand jury decisions

The U.S Supreme Court has not visited the constitutionality of the system in almost 40 years. That could soon change.

Around the country legislators are filing bills to overhaul the system as it is currently in practice. Some are even seeking to eliminate it altogether.

Dean of Senate and Texas State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) has filed Senate Bill 135 which could change the manner in which grand jurors are selected and make it much more similar to the process used to select regular petit jurors. Petit Jurors, unlike grand jurors, sit on juries that decide guilt or innocence. Grand jurors are merely tasked with deciding if there is enough evidence to send a potential defendant to trial.

Under Whitmire’s proposal, the “key-man” system would be abolished and grand jurors would be selected from the regular jury pool. “I’ve introduced legislation to use random selection using a voter registration system or something of that sort,” says Whitmire. He believes his proposal will take cronyism out of the process.
The “key-man” system is a method used throughout much of the state of Texas whereby an appointed commission, as opposed to randomly selected individuals, determines who may serve on a grand jury.

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the system to be constitutional, while at the same time acknowledging its vulnerability to abuse.

Court rulings and statistical analysis of have found the system tends to favor the powerful, while disenfranchising racial minorities, the poor, women and the young. According to Whitmire, all but two states, California and Texas have abandoned the “key-man” selection process.
“When judges select “key” people to select the grand jurors-they get people who have lots of time, no schedule, and oftentimes they are political friends of the judge,” says Whitmire.

“Recently a police officer was chosen as a grand juror foreman in a police officer shooting,” adds the senator. Citing the potential conflict that may arise, or the perceptions to which it may give sway.

That case is only one example of a grand jury deliberation that has left the senator baffled. “I am still upset concerning the beating of an African-American male by three Rice University police officers, over a theft of a bicycle. The three White officers, off campus, repeatedly struck the victim with batons, a devise other agencies have abandoned the use of.” Whitmire says he will also be filing legislation concerning the withholding of public information from elected officials, the media and the public, in such cases.

The  previous case to which Whitmire alludes, is one in which an African-American male was charged in the shooting death of a white police officer. The jury foreman in the Alfred Dewayne Brown case was James Koteras, an active Houston police officer and colleague of the murdered officer.
“When everyone comes from the same socioeconomic system you don’t get a system that reflects the people; and the reality, or perception of African-Americans is just that,” says Whitmire.

Agreeing with Whitmire is Attorney Teana Watson, a criminal defense lawyer who has also worked as an assistant district attorney in Fort Bend County.

“The key man system can be easily fraught with nepotism, which can more easily lead to a lack of diversity on a grand jury, (especially) if your judiciary lacks diversity. Again and again, the statistics show that the grand jury in Harris, and surrounding counties, lack diversity.”

When you combine that lack of diversity, with prosecutors who are predisposed to direct jurors to a certain outcome, particularly in officer involved cases, the Ferguson and New York no-bills, are what you get.

“The due process that the officer (involved) shooting cases receives is not what the average defendant receives when their case is being presented to the grand jury. For example, it appears the Ferguson grand jury heard weeks of evidence:  testimony-lay as well as expert,  forensics, etc… that is not normal.   It also appears that the Garner grand jury was presented with a great deal of evidence as well. It (certainly) appears in both cases that grand jurors were guided toward a “NO BILL”, which again is not the normal course,” Says Watson. “97 percent of cases presented to a grand jury are “true-billed.”

And Watson also believes there are many in that 97 percent that should have never been indicted. She attributes the selective information that can be presented to those jurors by prosecutors. “As a practicing criminal defense attorney, I come across many cases that never should have been true billed, if only certain facts were made known to the grand jury. Of course there have been cases that I personally represented people and presented packets of evidence to the grand jury and it has resulted in a “no bill”. However, in those cases the client had the foresight to hire me early enough to make the presentation to the grand jury. In many cases, people do not obtain an attorney until after a grand jury indictment”

Criticism of the system in Texas is not limited to criminal defense attorneys or Senator Whitmire and his Democratic and Republican colleagues. John Stride, a senior appellate attorney for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, wrote in an article for the organization this spring. “Grand Jurors are drawn from those persons who are considered pillars of the community and retirees. Many of these may have strong ties with law enforcement officers…(and are therefore) more likely to buy into whatever the judge, the prosecutor, or officers say.”

“I hope the unfortunate incidents of late have served as a wakeup call to everyone that the criminal justice system is a process and you must participate to change any process .  The most basic form of participation, and the one that gets the most respect from elected officials, DA’s and Judges, entails voting,” Says Attorney Watson.
The Texas legislator will convene on January 13, 2014 under the leadership of a new governor for the first time in this millennium. Governor-elect Greg Abbott as the former Attorney General never questioned, or challenged the grand jury selection system.

“I’ve got my work cut out for me,” says Senator Whitmire. Our District Attorney (Devon Anderson of Harris County) has already stated that if she were still on the bench as a judge, she would use the random selection process. (That) is a first step toward paving the way for bi-partisan support of the effort.

Latest Articles


Search our archive of past issues Receive our Latest Updates
* indicates required

October 16, 2023, HOUSTON, TX – Congressional Candidate Amanda Edwards has raised over $1 million in less than 4 months, a substantial sum that helps bolster the frontrunner status of the former At-Large Houston City Council Member in her bid for U.S. Congress. Edwards raised over $433,000 in Q3 of 2023. This strong Q3 report expands on a successful Q2 where Edwards announced just 11 days after declaring her candidacy that she had raised over $600,000. With over $829,000 in cash-on-hand at the end of the September 30th financial reporting period, Edwards proves again that she is the clear frontrunner in the race. “I am beyond grateful for the strong outpouring of support that will help me to win this race and serve the incredible people of the 18th Congressional District,” said Edwards. “We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s trajectory, and we need to send servant leaders to Congress who can deliver the results the community deserves. The strong support from our supporters will help us to cultivate an 18th Congressional District where everyone in it can thrive.” Edwards said. “Amanda understands the challenges that the hard-working folks of the 18th Congressional District face because she has never lost sight of who she is or where she comes from; she was born and raised right here in the 18th Congressional District of Houston,” said Kathryn McNiel, spokesperson for Edwards’ campaign. Edwards has been endorsed by Higher Heights PAC, Collective PAC, Krimson PAC, and the Brady PAC. She has also been supported by Beto O’Rourke, among many others. About Amanda: Amanda is a native Houstonian, attorney and former At-Large Houston City Council Member. Amanda is a graduate of Eisenhower High School in Aldine ISD. Edwards earned a B.A. from Emory University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Edwards practiced law at Vinson & Elkins LLP and Bracewell LLP before entering public service. Edwards is a life-long member of St. Monica Catholic Church in Acres Homes. For more information, please visit

As September 13th rolls around, we extend our warmest birthday wishes to the creative powerhouse, Tyler Perry, a man whose indomitable spirit and groundbreaking work have left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment. With his multifaceted talents as an actor, playwright, screenwriter, producer, and director, Tyler Perry has not only entertained but also inspired audiences worldwide, particularly within the African-American community, where his influence and role have been nothing short of powerful. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1969, Tyler Perry’s journey to stardom was a path riddled with adversity. Raised in a turbulent household, he found refuge in writing, using it as a therapeutic outlet. This period of introspection gave rise to one of his most iconic creations, Madea, a vivacious, no-nonsense grandmother who would later become a beloved figure in Perry’s works, offering a unique blend of humor and profound life lessons. Despite facing numerous challenges, including rejection and financial struggles, Perry’s determination and unwavering belief in his abilities propelled him forward. In 1992, he staged his first play, “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” which, although met with limited success, was a pivotal moment in his career. Unfazed by initial setbacks, Perry continued to hone his craft, and by 1998, he had successfully produced a string of stage plays that showcased his storytelling prowess.

Calling all teenage student-athletes! If you have dreams of playing college soccer and wish to represent an HBCU, the HBCU ID Camp is your golden opportunity. From 8 am to 5 pm on November 11-12, Houston Sports Park will transform into a hub for aspiring male and female soccer players. Coaches from HBCUs across the nation will be present to evaluate, scout, and offer valuable feedback. Moreover, they might even spot the next soccer prodigy to join their collegiate soccer programs. This camp is not just about honing your soccer skills but also a chance to connect with the HBCU soccer community. You’ll learn the ins and outs of what it takes to excel on the field and in the classroom, which is crucial for a college athlete. The HBCU ID Camp is an excellent platform to network with coaches, learn from experienced athletes, and take the first steps toward your college soccer journey. To secure your spot at this incredible event, don’t forget to register [here](insert registration link). Space is limited to 120 participants, so make sure to reserve your place before it’s too late. It’s time to turn your dreams of playing college soccer into a reality.

Scroll to Top