Milam County grand jury process complex and important
Recently a county resident called me with questions about the grand jury system here in Milam County. This made me aware of the need to do a better job of trying to explain to everyone how the process works.
To be charged in county court requires that the county attorney or an assistant prosecutor, after investigating a case in which a complaint has been filed, determines whether enough evidence exists to file an “information” (similar to an indictment) with the county clerk’s office and bring the case before the County Judge for prosecution.
Misdemeanors, usually Class A and B cases, are tried in county court. Misdemeanor cases do not require grand jury review.
In a felony case, the procedure is very different. All felony cases are tried in district court and require grand jur y review to determine whether enough evidence exists for indictment.
In Milam County, the district judge appoints a grand jury twice a year to serve for six months to review felony cases using what is called the “commission” system.
Five responsible citizens (a minimum of 3 is required by law) serve as a grand jury selection commission. Judge John Youngblood explained to me that to help insure fairness he selects representatives from different areas of the county, from both genders, different races and age groups, and different economic status to make up these commissions, as it is important the composition of the grand jury reflects the county.
A new commission is named each June and December, is called to the courthouse, and charged with the responsibility of choosing approximately 35 names of county residents to be considered for the next grand jury panel.
The judge said he gives them the same general guidelines as he uses (as mentioned above) and asks each one to select 7 or 8 residents from his or her area of the county, although these requirements are not “set in concrete” as he put it.
There are eight requirements that are mandatory to qualify to serve on a grand jury:
1. You must be a citizen resident of the county and qualified to vote.
2. You must be of sound mind and good moral character.
3. You must be able to read and write.
4. You may not have a felony conviction or a misdemeanor conviction involving theft (including a hot check) on your record.
5. You cannot have a case for either of these pending.
6. You can’t be related to another person on the same grand jury.
7. You cannot have served on a grand jury within the past year.
8. You may not be involved in a case that may come before the grand jury in the next session.
Once the commission has selected their 35 or so grand jury candidates, they sign off on the list and present it to the district clerk who in turn presents it to the sheriff.
The candidates are summoned to appear in the district courtroom on the third Thursday in January or July for grand jury selection.
The “array”, as it is called, is qualified using the eight criteria mentioned above as well as being checked out as to availability, health, and other general criteria.
Those who are qualified have their names placed in the hat, twelve names are drawn along with two alternates and they become the grand jury panel that serves for the ensuing six months.
This selection process usually takes20to30minutes. Those selected are sworn in, the judge appoints one of the 12 as the foreman, and they proceed immediately to the jury room for their first session.
District Attorney, Kerry Spears and her staff review all felony cases and bring those which they believe merit consideration before the grand jury.
They review the cases and the evidence that has been compiled and the Grand Jury decides if the case is worthy to be tried; if so their decision is a “true bill” and an indictment is issued, if not the case is “no billed” and does not go to trial.
Nine of the 12 jurors must agree for an indictment.
The grand jury usually convenes at 9 a.m. on the third Thursday of each month and is done by noon, but is subject to call at any time as necessary. They serve for six months, then a new grand jury is selected using the same process.