Ciudadanos Unidos De San Juan v. Hidalgo County Grand Jury Com'rs, s. 77-3321

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation622 F.2d 807
Docket NumberNos. 77-3321,78-1394,s. 77-3321
PartiesCIUDADANOS UNIDOS DE SAN JUAN et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. HIDALGO COUNTY GRAND JURY COMMISSIONERS et al., Defendants-Appellees. Robert CABALLERO et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Dellis PRATER et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date31 July 1980

James C. Harrington, San Juan, Tex., Bruce J. Ennis, Joel M. Gora, American Civil Liberties Union, New York City, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Nancy M. Simonson, Ed Idar, Jr., Asst. Attys. Gen., Austin, Tex., for defendants-appellees.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before GOLDBERG, FAY and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges.

GOLDBERG, Circuit Judge:

Almost 800 years ago, the Magna Charta proclaimed, "No free man shall be . . . imprisoned . . . or in any way destroyed, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or (and) by the law of the land." 1 From this seed planted in the early spring of English legal culture has grown our "very idea of a jury . . . a body of men composed of the peers or equals of the persons whose rights it is selected or summoned to determine; that is, of his neighbors, fellows, associates, persons having the same legal status as that which he holds." Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 25 L.Ed. 664 (1879). And in its transplanted soil, this growth has flourished; our courts have recognized its crucial importance to our system of justice, beyond the rights of any particular criminal defendant: "For racial discrimination to result in the exclusion from jury service of otherwise qualified groups not only violates our Constitution and the laws enacted under it, but is at war with our basic concepts of a democratic society and a representative government." Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 61 S.Ct. 164, 165, 85 L.Ed. 84 (1940). See generally Labat, supra, 365 F.2d at 711.

Almost three years ago, the Supreme Court applied these principles to reverse the conviction of a criminal defendant in Hidalgo County, Texas, on the ground that Mexican-Americans had been unconstitutionally excluded from the grand jury that indicted him. See Castaneda v. Partida, 430 U.S. 482, 97 S.Ct. 1272, 51 L.Ed.2d 498 (1977). The cases before us require that we again trek to Hidalgo County with a stop, as well, in neighboring Willacy County in vindication of our "very idea of a jury." Appellants in the cases before us filed civil actions seeking to establish that the grand juries convened in those counties were composed in contravention of the Constitution's requirements because four identifiable groups in the community Mexican-Americans, women, young people and poor people had been excluded from consideration for service. The district court dismissed their complaints on the ground that they presented no justiciable controversy. From these dismissals, appellants in both cases seek our review. Because we find the cases justiciable, we reverse.


A. The courts have on numerous previous occasions described and evaluated the operation of the Texas system of grand juror selection. See, e. g., Castaneda v. Partida, 430 U.S. 482, 97 S.Ct. 1272, 51 L.Ed.2d 498 (1977); Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475, 74 S.Ct. 667, 98 L.Ed. 866 (1954); Cassell v. Texas, 339 U.S. 282, 70 S.Ct. 629, 94 L.Ed. 839 (1950); Akins v. Texas, 325 U.S. 398, 65 S.Ct. 1276, 89 L.Ed. 1692 (1945); Hill v. Texas, 316 U.S. 400, 62 S.Ct. 1159, 86 L.Ed. 1559 (1942); Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 61 S.Ct. 164, 85 L.Ed. 84 (1940); Brooks v. Beto, 366 F.2d 1 (5th Cir. 1966), cert. denied, 386 U.S. 975, 87 S.Ct. 1169, 18 L.Ed.2d 135 (1967). Because a major issue in the cases before us is the amenability of the Texas system to injunctive relief and because the system was modified in some respects in 1979, we again must look closely at how it functions. 2 Prior to September 1, 1979, and at the time this action was filed, Texas employed exclusively the "key man" method of grand juror selection, "which relies on jury commissioners to select prospective grand jurors from the community at large." Castaneda, supra, 97 S.Ct. at 1275 (footnote omitted). See Tex.Crim.Proc.Code Ann. Art. 19 (Vernon 1977). In 1979, however, Texas amended its selection laws to make the use of this method optional with the state district judge. See Tex.Crim.Proc.Code Ann. Art. 19.01(b) (Vernon Supp.1980). 3 In lieu of use of the key man system, the state district judge may use the same random selection system used for selection of jurors in civil cases in Texas. See note 3 supra. Since the challenges here are directed solely to alleged abuses occurring in the use of the key man system in the Texas counties of Hidalgo and Willacy, we focus on the manner in which that system operates.

The state district judge initiates the process by appointing three to five persons to serve as grand jury commissioners. See Tex.Crim.Proc.Code Ann. Art. 19.01 (Vernon 1977). 4 The commissioners in turn choose "not less than 15 nor more than 20 persons from the citizens of different portions of the county to be summoned as grand jurors." Tex.Crim.Proc.Code Ann. Art. 19.06 (Vernon 1977). 5 The statutes nowhere specify the manner in which the jury commissioners are to select the names of potential grand jurors to be placed on the grand jury "list," 6 nor are the jury commissioners required to use any particular source for names to be placed on their list. 7 The mode of selection of potential grand jurors is thus left entirely to the discretion of the jury commissioners.

For a description of the remainder of the relevant selection procedures, we quote from Castaneda, supra, 97 S.Ct. at 1275:

When at least 12 of the persons on the list appear in court pursuant to summons, the district judge proceeds to "test their qualifications." Art. 19.21. The qualifications themselves are set out in Art. 19.08: a grand juror must be a citizen of Texas and of the county, be a qualified voter in the county, be "of sound mind and good moral character," be literate, have no prior felony conviction, and be under no pending indictment "or other legal accusation for theft or of any felony." Interrogation under oath is the method specified for testing the prospective juror's qualifications. Art. 19.22. The precise questions to be asked are set out in Art. 19.23, which, for the most part, tracks the language of Art. 19.08. After the court finds 12 jurors who meet the statutory qualifications, they are impaneled as the grand jury. Art. 19.26. 8

B. We next examine the allegations of the complaints in the two cases. In Ciudadanos de San Juan v. Hidalgo County Grand Jury Commissioners (the Hidalgo County case), No. 77-3321, the appellants, plaintiffs below, 9 brought suit individually and as class representatives to obtain monetary, 10 injunctive and declaratory relief to redress the systematic exclusion or underrepresentation of four classes of qualified individuals from Hidalgo County grand juries: Mexican-Americans (or those bearing Spanish-surnames); women; young people (those between the ages of 18 and 28); and poor people (those having incomes below the government designated poverty level). 11 Appellants allege that a pattern and practice of systematic exclusion or underrepresentation of the four named groups is established by statistics showing the actual operation of the grand juror selection process over the past ten years and that this pattern and practice will continue. They allege further that this systematic exclusion or underrepresentation directly harms appellants and the classes they represent by denying them equal consideration "for grand jury service solely because of their sex, age, income, or national origin," and conclude that this injury amounts to a denial of due process and equal protection of the laws under the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution. Named as parties defendant are the jury commissioners of Hidalgo County, in their individual and official capacities, and the judge of the 93rd Judicial District of Texas in his official capacity. 12 Appellants also seek relief against the successors in office of all defendants.

The complaint in Caballero v. Prater (the Willacy County case), No. 78-1394, differs in only a few noteworthy respects from that in the Hidalgo County case. While the named plaintiffs 13 and the alleged statistical disparities are, of course, different, this complaint alleges a similar continuing, ten-year pattern of systematic exclusion or underrepresentation of the same four classes of individuals from consideration for grand jury service. For present purposes, the most significant difference between the two complaints is that, in this case, appellants did not name the state district judge as a defendant; rather they sued only the jury commissioners of Willacy County in their individual and official capacities. 14 The relief sought is essentially similar to that requested in the Hidalgo County case, although there is here no request for monetary damages. 15 Appellants in this case also sought relief against appellees' successors.

Because of the close similarities between the complaints, they may, for most purposes, be treated together in our consideration of these cases. Indeed, the district court dismissed the Willacy County case sua sponte on the basis of its opinion in the Hidalgo County case.

C. The district court did not find that the facts alleged, if proven, would be inadequate to establish a prima facie case of discriminatory exclusion from grand jury service in Hidalgo and Willacy Counties; rather, it held that for a number of reasons the cases were not appropriate for resolution in the federal courts. The district court indicated that, in its opinion, "the most important aspect" of these cases was that, in order for a case to be justiciable, it "must present a set of circumstances which will allow the Court to fashion a remedy, and it is this Court's opinion that this case does...

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