A Houston defense lawyer argues that criminal trials in Houston’s Harris County are unconstitutional because juries don’t reflect a fair cross-section of the area, the Houston Chronicle reports. Attorney Clint Harmon has stood outside the county Criminal Justice Center this week, handing out hundreds of fill-in-the-blank motions arguing that trials here are unfair because fewer than 20 percent of residents who are summoned show up for jury duty. “This would freeze up the system,” said Harmon. He believes that the motions – if defense attorneys file them – could put new pressure on judges to seek reform of the way juries are summoned and paid.
State legislators have discussed raising Texas juror pay from $6 a day – a rate in place for 51 years and the lowest in the nation. In March, a Houston Chronicle study found that residents of mostly white, upper-income neighborhoods are up to seven times more likely to show up for jury duty than those in low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods. Last year, the Houston-based law firm Vinson & Elkins challenged a handful of criminal convictions statewide, maintaining that Hispanics and low-income residents are consistently under-represented on Texas juries. Some lawyers were dubious of Harmon’s argument. “No court has ever held that you have a right to a jury that looks like you,” said attorney Brian Wice.