The Grand Jury
The Grand Jury is one of the oldest, most respected, and powerful civil institutions in the United States. More than forty states have some form of Grand Jury. The State of California mandates that nineteen randomly selected citizens be impaneled every year as a Grand Jury in Hanford. Grand Jury duties, powers, responsibilities, qualifications and the selection process are set forth in the California Penal Code.
The Grand Jury is part of the judicial branch of government and has three functions:
- To examine all aspects of city and county governments and special districts by initiating its own investigations.
- To serve as ombudsman for the citizens of the cities and the county.
- To conduct criminal investigations and, if the evidence is sufficient, issue criminal indictments in lieu of a preliminary Superior Court hearing.
The Grand Jury Process
The Grand Jury although a part of the judicial system, is an entirely independent body. The Presiding Judge of the Superior Court, the District Attorney, the County Counsel and the State Attorney General act only as advisors. They cannot prevent Grand Jury action unless that action violates the law.
The Grand Jury reviews and evaluates procedures, methods and systems used by government agencies to determine whether they comply with the stated objectives of the agency and if their operation can be made more efficient and effective. It may inquire into any aspect of county/city government, including special legislative districts and joint power agencies to ascertain that the best interests of Kings County residents are being served.
The Grand Jury functions lawfully only as a body. No individual grand juror, acting alone, has any power or authority. Meetings of the Grand Jury are not open to the public. Law requires that all matters discussed before the Grand Jury and votes taken, to be kept private and confidential. The end results of inquiries into civil matters are released to the public in the form of a final report which is approved before release, by the Presiding Judge, the Supervising Judge of the Superior Court.
Grand Jurors serve a one (1) year term from July 1st through June 30th. The jury panel consists of nineteen (19) persons who are assigned to various committees. Typically, members meet three times per week. Meetings are usually done by noon. Sometimes a meeting might take most of the day.
It is understood that Grand Jurors may be absent for reasonable periods for vacations. During your term as a Grand Juror you would be excused from trial jury service in the State Courts.
Duties of the Grand Jury
The Grand Jury is a time-honored component of our Anglo-American legal system. Grand Jurors are selected citizens of the County who are expected to exercise sound judgment in reviewing and commenting upon the actions of governmental agencies and returning criminal indictments.
Essentially, the Grand Jury operates as an investigative agency performing a two-fold function. First, the Grand Jury has powers and duties with respect to the oversight of public offices, officers and transactions. Designated State and all County and special District agencies that serve Kings County are routinely reviewed and critiqued by the Grand Jury in its annual and interim reports.
Second, the Grand Jury has powers and duties with respect to inquiry into possible public offenses, misconduct in office by public officers and determining whether to return indictments charging the commission of felonies.
The Kings County Grand Jury selection process is conducted May through June. The process involves completing this questionnaire and being interviewed by the designee of the Presiding Judge of the Kings County Courts. After selection, the designee of the Presiding Judge will further instruct jurors of their duties. Throughout its term the Grand Jury may request advice on legal matters from the District Attorney and County Counsel.
The Penal Code requires the Grand Jury to:
Inquire into the condition and management of the public prisons within the county. Investigate and report on the operations, accounts and records of county officers, departments and functions. Inquire into the willful or corrupt misconduct in office of public officers. Submit the final report of its findings and recommendations, no later than the end of its term, to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court. Agencies to which these recommendations are directed are required to respond to the County Board of Supervisors within 90 days after the report is released.
Requirements to become a Grand Juror
- Be a citizen of the United States
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Be a resident of Kings County for at least one year immediately prior to selection.
- Exhibit intelligence, sound judgment and good character.
- Must not be serving as a trial juror in any California court.
- Cannot have been discharged as a grand juror in any California court within one year of the beginning date of service.
- Cannot have been convicted of malfeasance in office, any felony or other high crime.
- Cannot be serving as an elected public official.
Grand Jury Selection Process
The law states that there shall be 19 members of the Grand Jury with six alternates. Candidates are drawn randomly from the same pool from which regular trial jurors are selected. Potential grand jurors are given information about Grand Jury duties and the time commitment required.
Officers of the court interview each candidate to reduce the number to 30. The final selection is made by a random drawing of names. Upon approval by the court, up to ten members of the previous Grand Jury may carry over to the drawing to the following year.
Members of the Grand Jury should represent a cross-section of ages, occupations, ethnic groups and geographic regions of the county.
The Grand Jury convenes July 1 through June 30 of the following year, is paid a per diem of ($15 per day) for those days when the juror attends meetings. Mileage is reimbursed for travel between the juror's residence and the Grand Jury Chambers and for travel at the current IRS allowance for business travel.
Grand Jury Officers
Recognizes that the most important responsibility lies in seeing that the Grand Jury as a whole and each of the committees function effectively and efficiently.
Foreperson Pro Tem
In absence of the Foreperson, assumes all functions of foreperson.
Is the general assistant to the foreperson in all matters, keeps the accurate record (minutes) of the proceedings of each meeting.
Is responsible for incoming and outgoing correspondence.
Provides jurors with reimbursement forms and collects these forms at the end of each month and handles all bills received by the Grand Jury.
Grand Jury Committees
The work of the Grand Jury currently is done be its seven committees and ad hoc committees, which are formed in response to special needs.
Law and Public Safety
Focuses on law enforcement agencies, prisons and fire departments.
Looks into county agencies and departments not covered by other committees.
Health and Education
Examines school districts throughout the county, the Health department and district hospitals.
Is responsible for city and local boards including cemeteries and Community Service Districts.
Edit and Review
Responsible for producing the Final Report and other such manuals necessary in the function of the Grand Jury.
The first committee to screen all citizen complaints received and assign to the proper committee for action.
Empowered to advertise and inform the public of the Grand Jury as an ombudsman for the citizens of Kings County.