The Grand Jury is an investigatory body with the authority to act as a watchdog on local government, investigate citizen complaints, and assist in criminal matters at the request of the district attorney.
The Grand Jury is
part of the county judicial system as authorized
by the California State Constitution. It is
advised by the Superior Court, but is not
accountable to elected officials or government
employees. Its findings and recommendations are
unbiased and impartial. Grand jurors are sworn
to secrecy and, other than final reports, their
work is kept strictly confidential.
Grand Jury History
The current Grand Jury system evolved from an earlier Anglo Saxon institution in England, which performed similar functions as the watchdog on local government and to identify wrongdoers. Its role changed over time as it took on responsibilities once performed by the church. By the seventeenth century, the Grand Jury had become a counterweight to the authority of the crown and its agents helping to protect the rights of individuals. Instead of trying individuals solely upon the word of the king, the Grand Jury would determine whether a crime had been committed and whether there was enough evidence to try the person accused.
In 1635, the
first American Grand Jury was impaneled in the
Massachusetts Bay Colony. By 1683, grand juries
were present in all of the colonies. These early
American grand juries started the practice of
returning presentments or formal accusations,
which were primarily against public officials
and which are different from criminal
indictments. This led to the development of the
Grand Jury as a civil watchdog safeguarding
citizens from governmental malpractice and
official misconduct. The Grand Jury’s role in
criminal cases was also established in the Bill
of Rights in the Fifth Amendment:
. . . “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury,” . . .
Activities of the Grand Jury
Each year the Grand Jury performs its three functions. Certain activities of the Grand Jury are mandated by law; however, the Grand Jury is free to select those agencies of government it wishes to study. The Grand Jury is required by law to issue a final report on its findings and recommendations. The reports become public record and are available for public review. The Grand Jury provides print copies of the reports to public officials, libraries and the media. Electronic copies are also published on the county's Web site.
The Civil Function
In its function as a watchdog on city and county government and special districts within the county, the Grand Jury examines several aspects of local government. It has the authority to ascertain how public funds are spent and how spending is documented, examine the condition of jails and other detention centers, examine charges of willful misconduct in office and investigate that type of misconduct. In its final reports, the Grand Jury also recommends ways to increase efficiency, improve services to the public and save taxpayer dollars. The Grand Jury may also commend well-managed departments.
Any private citizen, city or county official or employee may ask the Grand Jury to investigate a complaint about an agency within the Grand Jury’s jurisdiction. All complaints must be submitted in writing. The Grand Jury complaint form is available through the office of the Superior Court Executive or from the Grand Jury. All Grand Jury investigations of complaints are confidential. The Grand Jury may only act on requests that concern an agency or individual that it is empowered to investigate. For example, the Grand Jury is not empowered to investigate a private organization or company. In addition, the Grand Jury would investigate cases where agencies or officers have acted improperly and not cases where someone may disagree with agency or officer actions or decisions.
Links to further information about grand juries:
The California Grand Jury Association
Information on Federal Grand Juries
Behind the Locked Door of an American Grand Jury: Its History, Its Secrecy and Its Process
Complete Text of Fifth Amendment