The Role of the Grand Jury
The California Penal Code calls for a Grand Jury in each county. Grand Juries were established throughout California during the early years of statehood. The Grand Jury is an investigatory body created for the protection of society and the enforcement of the law.
A Grand Jury works to ensure that the best interests of all residents of the county are being served by their governmental bodies. The functions of the Grand Jury include the following:
1. Response to Complaints: The Grand Jury receives many letters from residents alleging mistreatment by officials, suspicions of misconduct, or governmental inefficiencies. Anyone may ask the Grand Jury to conduct an investigation. The Grand Jury evaluates all complaints. However, the Grand Jury does not have jurisdiction over state or federal agencies, the Court system, private for-profit corporations, and nonprofit corporations which were not established by or operating on behalf of a public entity.
2. Watchdog Responsibilities: The major function of the Sacramento County Grand Jury is to examine county and city government, as well as school and special districts to ensure their duties are being lawfully carried out. The Grand Jury reviews and evaluates procedures utilized by these entities to determine if more efficient and economical methods may be employed. The Grand Jury is authorized to:
· Inspect and audit books, records and financial expenditures to ensure that public funds are properly accounted for and legally spent.
By law, the Grand Jury is mandated to conduct tours of all the correctional facilities within Sacramento County, including public prisons.
3. Criminal Investigations: The Grand Jury may investigate allegations of criminal activity and report on these investigations. Criminal cases are commonly presented to the Grand Jury by the District Attorney for possible indictment. If it is determined there is probable cause to believe that the accused has committed a crime, the Grand Jury issues an indictment. An indictment is an accusation, not a finding of guilt.
4. Reports: Grand Jury findings and recommendations are issued in written reports. Each report must be approved by at least 12 of the 19 members of the Grand Jury. At the end of its term, the Grand Jury issues a Final Report, including all reports released during the year and documenting its investigations and recommendations. Within 90 days following the issuance of a report, officials responsible for matters addressed in the report are required to respond to the Presiding Judge in writing. Copies of the Final Report are available to the public and distributed to public officials, libraries, the news media, and any entity which is the subject of a report. The succeeding Grand Jury reviews the responses of the affected public agencies and follows up on the previous Grand Jury's recommendations.
In Sacramento County, the Grand Jury is impaneled annually and is comprised of 19 members. The Advisor Judge to the Grand Jury appoints a foreperson who presides at all full Grand Jury proceedings and is responsible for directing the business of the Grand Jury. Grand Jurors are officers of the court but work as an independent body. It is critical to the effectiveness and credibility of the Grand Jury that all members function without influence from outside parties.
Most Grand Jury work is done by committees. These may include Administration, Criminal Justice, Edit, Education, Environment, Juvenile Justice, Health, Human Services, Public Works, and Special Districts. Other committees may be appointed as required. Committee members meet with county and city officials, visit county facilities, and conduct independent research on matters of interest or concern.
The committees report to the full Grand Jury and decisions are reached after analysis and investigation of the issues. The Grand Jury may seek advice or request the services of the County Counsel, District Attorney, Advisor Judge of the Superior Court, or the State Attorney General. The Grand Jury may retain private counsel or other sources for technical assistance, if deemed necessary, with the approval of the Advisor Judge.
All complaints to the Grand Jury are confidential as are all Grand Jury proceedings. Grand Jurors shall not discuss the business of the Grand Jury with anyone - including family or friends. All Grand Jury business must take place in private where such discussions cannot be overheard.
In January of each year, the selection process for the succeeding Grand Jury begins. A candidate pool is developed from voter registration and Department of Motor Vehicle records, as well as interested individuals nominated by the Superior Court Judges. All candidates are thoroughly screened. In June, the succeeding Grand Jury is selected by lottery from the qualified candidates. The Grand Jury serves for one year, beginning on July 1 and ending on June 30 of the following year.
Prospective Grand Jurors must possess the following qualifications:
1. Be a citizen of the United States, age 18 years or older, who shall have been a resident of the county for one year immediately before being selected.
A person is not eligible to act as a Grand Juror if he or she is serving as a trial juror in any court in this State; has been discharged as a Grand Juror in any court of this State within one year; has been convicted of malfeasance in office, or any felony or other high crime; or is serving as an elected public officer.
Desirable qualifications for a Grand Juror include the following:
· Have the time to make the necessary commitment. It is not uncommon to serve 20 hours a week - or more.
Submission of Complaints
Although not required, issues of concern should first be presented to those responsible for resolution unless it is detrimental to the complainant. The Grand Jury reviews all complaints to determine whether to conduct an investigation or take any action. While the Grand Jury takes each request seriously, not all can be investigated because of legal restrictions, resource limitations, or a variety of other reasons.
By law, the work of the Grand Jury is confidential and it cannot respond individually regarding what action, if any, is decided upon with respect to the complainant's letter. If the complaint is investigated, the complainant may or may not be contacted by one of the Grand Jury committees. In all cases in which the Grand Jury takes formal action, its concerns and recommendations will appear in its Final Report issued by June 30 of each year.
Complaints may be submitted by writing the Sacramento County Grand Jury, 720 Ninth Street, Room 611, Sacramento, CA, 95814. Call (916) 874-7559 for a complaint form.