Introduction to the Grand Jury
In California, there are two types of juries: the petit jury and the grand jury. The petit jury is the well-known trial jury, usually composed of 12 members chosen from county citizens who have been summoned to appear for jury services. It is this jury that decides the guilt or innocence of an individual on trial.
The grand jury derives its name from the fact that it usually has a greater number of members than a petit (trial) jury. For Ventura County, the California Penal Code sets this number at 19 based on the population of the county. The grand jury is a body of citizens mandated by the California State Constitution and the California Penal Code to serve as a “voice of the people and a conscience of the community.” In general, the grand jury promotes honest, efficient government in the best interest of the people of Ventura County.
In California, grand juries have three basic functions:
- To weigh criminal charges and determine if indictments should be returned.
- To act as the public’s “watchdog” by investigating and reporting on the affairs of local government, including the county, cities, special districts, Local Agency Formation Commissions, Joint Powers Authorities, and designated non-profit corporations.
- To weigh allegations of misconduct against public officials and determine whether to present formal accusations requesting their removal from office.
In Ventura County, the first function is fulfilled by what is commonly referred to as the “criminal” grand jury. A criminal grand jury is impaneled when deemed necessary by the district attorney. Members are selected from the petit jury pool so that membership is “reasonably representative of a cross-section of the population” in order to ensure that due process is afforded to possible defendants in criminal proceedings. Members serve for a limited time (usually three months).
The second and third functions are fulfilled by what is commonly referred to as the “civil” grand jury. The civil grand jury is an investigative body that functions in a government oversight capacity. Its investigations are usually in response to a public complaint but may also be internally generated. Within their legal boundaries, grand juries have almost complete independence from the courts and legislative or administrative bodies. The jury may examine witnesses at its discretion, and its power over witnesses resembles that of a trial court. All procedures are secret and complainants and witnesses are never identified. Upon completion of an investigation, the grand jury publishes its findings and recommendations. Members of this jury are selected through an application and screening process and are impaneled for a period of one year.
This website relates to the “civil” grand jury.
Note: Grand Jury speakers are available to make presentations to community and school groups tailored to particular audiences and timeframes. Click here to download a Speaker Request Form.
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