Grand juries are an integral part of our system of law dating back to the Assize of Clarendon of 1166 and the Magna Carta of 1215. They came to our shores with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 and are part of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
The codification of Grand Jury law in California came about in 1872 with the adoption of the Penal code, where most grand jury law resides. Thereafter, the duties of the grand jury were expanded from “presentment and indictment” to specifically include investigation of county government. Each County is required to annually empanel a Grand Jury of 19 citizens.
Today, the principal role of the grand jury is to investigate the operations of all county agencies, special districts, schools, and other entities that receive public money. Issues examined are chosen by the jurors based on citizen-initiated complaints and on the will of the jurors. The jury is required to annually inspect all public prisons in the county. The jury may investigate the efficiency of all local government activity, audit financial records, and review all public records. The deliberations of the grand jury are conducted in utmost secrecy and jurors are sworn to maintain confidentiality for life. Each jury is required to report annually on significant investigations and issue recommendations to resolve deficiencies.
The major functions of a grand jury are divided into criminal indictments and civil investigations. There are three predominant functions:
1) “Watchdog” Responsibilities
The Grand Jury may examine all aspects of county and city government and special districts to ensure that the county is being governed honestly and efficiently and that county monies are being handled appropriately.
2) Citizen Complaints
The Grand Jury receives many letters from citizens alleging mistreatment by officials, suspicions of misconduct, or governmental inefficiencies.
3) Criminal Investigations
Under certain, extremely rare, circumstances the Grand Jury holds hearings to determine whether evidence presented by the district attorney is of sufficient nature to warrant persons having to stand trial in court.
Grand Jury Requirements
- US citizen
- At least 18 years of age
- County resident for at least one year
- Read and write English
- Not currently serving on a trial jury
- Not currently an elected official
- Not a public agency board member
- Never convicted of a felony
Grand Jury Selection Process
- Complete an application
- Participate in an interview
- Attend orientation
- Final selection by the Courts
- Be sworn in by Presiding Judge (if chosen as a juror)
The Grand Jury a group of ordinary citizens appointed to investigate local government agencies. The Grand Jury may examine all aspects of county government (including special districts and school districts) to see that public monies are being handled judiciously and that an effective government is serving in the best interest of the people. The Grand Jury is authorized to audit financial expenditures and review operational practices, inquire into the conditions of jails and detention centers, and investigte written complaints from citizens. Findings may be included in the Grand Jury’s final report describing the issues and recommendations for improvement or solutions. What are the Qualifications?
Desirable Grand Juror qualifications include:
- Be in reasonably good health;
- Be open-minded to the views of others;
- Have an interest in community affairs;
- Have a general knowledge of the function, authority and responsibility of city and county government;
- Possess investigative skills;
- Have the ability to write and edit reports.
Prospective Grand Jurors must possess the following qualifications (Penal Code 893):
- Be a citizen of the United States and 18 years or older;
- Be a resident of the State and of the County for one year immediately before being selected;
- Be in possession of his or her natural faculties of ordinary intelligence, of sound judgment, and of fair character;
- Possess sufficient knowledge of the English language.
A person is not legally qualified to serve if any of the following apply:
- The person is serving as an elected public official;
- The person has been discharged as a Grand Juror;
- The person is serving as a trial juror in any court of this State;
- The person has been convicted of malfeasance in office or any felony or other high crime.
Is your answer to these questions YES? If so, you’d be a great candidate:
- Are you interested in trying to increase the efficiency of local government, save taxpayer dollars, and improve services?
- Can you ask thoughtful questions, review documents, and help write reports?
- Can you commit to a full year of work?
- Does your schedule permit you to spend at least 10 hours each week on Jury matters?
- Can you maintain confidentiality? If employed, can you obtain consent from your employer to serve on the Grand Jury?
If you are civic-minded and want to give back to your community by collaborating with a diverse group of like-minded people, you’re likely to fit right in.
Grand jurors are one-year agents of change in their communities. They come from all walks of life, such as law enforcement, business, social services and local government. They bring with them a broad range of interests, talents and life experiences, but they share a dedication to democratic ideals and a willingness to devote their time and energies to matters of civic importance.
The jury’s full panel typically meets the first and third Tuesday of each month at 9 a.m. In addition, various committees meet once each week, generally on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Most committee work takes place during regular working hours.
The Grand Jury forms committees and sets its own schedule for interviews, investigations and meetings. Persons selected for service should plan to commit to a minimum of 10-25 hours per week for a period of one year (July 1 - June 30).
Jury members are paid $15 per meeting attendance at full panel and committee meetings. They also receive reimbursement at the current Federal mileage rate for mileage to and from jury meetings and site visits, although mileage may be claimed only once per day. No additional compensation is provided.