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Grand Juries in California

A Study in Citizenship

By Bruce T. Olson

Questions the Book Will Answer

Since 1978, the American Grand Jury Foundation has collected questions that civil grand jurors in California have asked at our seminars. The following questions are examples of the many questions that the book, Grand Juries in California: A Study in Citizenship, will answer. The numbers in parenthesis designate pages in the book where answers will be found.

Accountability of grand juries

What kinds of information should a final report include to tell readers what we did during the year? (pp. 233-235)

Our grand jury decided to exclude reports of minor investigations from our final report to save printing costs. Is that a good idea? (p. 273)

Accusation (removal of public officers)

What is the “accusation” function of grand juries? (pp. 27; 261; 443)

Achievements of civil grand juries

Why don't the people of the State of California know more about their grand jury? (pp. 29-30; 320)

What happens if a public official refuses to do what grand juries tell them to do? (pp. 52; 295)

Do civil grand juries accomplish anything and, if so, what are examples of their accomplishments? (pp. 111-114)

If, as some newspaper editorials and public officials claim, grand juries are ineffective, why is this? (pp. 255-259)

Blunders of grand jurors

What lessons might we learn from “bad press” grand juries have received in recent years? (pp. 3-12)

Budgets, expenses, and grand jury fees

Are civil grand jury budgets adequate and who authorizes them? (pp. 85-93)

Is there a limit to how much money a grand jury has to work with? (pp. 86-87)

What if our grand jury got into a lengthy, expensive investigation? Is there some way we can augment our budget? (pp. 86; 214)

Out of what fund or funds are the financial resources for the grand jury paid and who authorizes grand jury budgets? (pp. 87-88)

How much money do grand jurors receive for being grand jurors and do they have expense accounts? (pp. 92-93)

California Constitution

What does the California Constitution say about grand juries? (p. 42)

Carry overs and continuity

Isn’t it a good idea for grand jurors to have paid staff who work year-round? (pp. 94; 258)

Should it be mandatory for some grand jurors to carry over each year? This would seem to help in the training of new grand jurors. (pp. 136; 275-276; 311-312; 316)

Case law

What is “case law” and how is this relevant for the civil grand jury? (pp. 53-57; 279)

Of the various appellate court cases, which one is especially significant in terms of grand jury procedure? (pp. 56; 208; 367)


What is meant by a “collegial body” and why is this important for grand jury service? (pp. 56; 58; 66-67; 206-209; 367)


Who tells grand jurors what committees to form? (pp. 74; 211-212)

Why do civil grand juries form committees and what kind of committees are there? (pp. 74-75)

What is the proper role of committees in grand jury service? (pp. 151-152)


Do citizens send complaints about local-government problems in their communities to grand juries? If so, where should they be sent? (p. 81)

Must a grand jury reveal names of citizens who send it a complaint? (p. 81)

Someone told us that our grand jury can act on only complaints it receives from other citizens but not grand jurors themselves. Is this correct? (p. 81)

How should a grand jury respond to citizen complaints? Should the complaint be simply acknowledged or should the citizen be informed that the complaint will be investigated? (p. 82)

Must a civil grand jury investigate every complaint it receives from citizens? (p. 82)

May individual grand jurors file complaints with civil grand juries on which they serve? (p. 399, note 12)

Confidentiality and secrecy

Why do grand juries operate in secret and is that legal? (pp. 54; 148-150; 230-231)

What is meant by “leaks” and are they problems for grand juries? (pp. 66; 230; 418, note 43)

Some former grand jurors in our county told us they'd be willing to assist us in our investigations. Why can't we take advantage of their experience? (pp. 256; 276)

Conflict of interest

Isn’t there a problem with having public employees serve on grand juries? (p. 307)

In my county, I have been an active supporter of my political party for years. Will this be a problem for me as a grand juror? (p. 308)

Court (see Judges)

District attorney

Why grand jurors are sometimes said to be the “puppets” of district attorneys and is this a fair criticism? (pp. 125; 252; 254-255; 258; 310; 312)

Facts, findings, conclusions, and recommendations

In which statute is the word “Fact” used? (p. 261)


What can be done to help grand jurors improve their understanding of what facts are? (pp. 222-223)

Final report (see Reports of civil grand juries)

Findings (see Facts, findings, conclusions, and recommendations)

“Fishing,” proscription against

Someone in our city told a reporter that our grand jury conducts fishing expeditions. What is meant by fishing? (pp. 55; 396, note 46)

Foreman, forewoman

How are the foreman or forewoman appointed and what are his or her duties? Also, please comment on whether the foreman or forewoman have absolute control over what grand jurors do? (pp. 78-80; 127; 209-210; 407, note 108)

Future of the grand jury

Is the present grand jury system in California on the defensive? If so, why; and what are its principal defects and abuses, as discerned by the public and the news media? (pp. 3; 53; 158-159)

Can grand jurors depend on the news media to follow-up on grand jury final reports? (pp. 334-337)

What needs to be done to help grand juries be more effective? (Chapter 7, pp. 251-301)

Grand jurors

What are the qualifications for being an effective grand juror? (pp. 314-317)


What is meant by civil grand jury independence and from whom are grand jurors independent? (pp. 63; 125-127; 215-216; 253; 258-259)

Our board of supervisors went to all the time, trouble, and expense to arrange a nice buffet lunch for us right after the judge swore us in and the local newspaper editor wrote an editorial about how bad that was. What’s the problem? (p. 126)

Some former grand jurors in our county have volunteered this year to partner with our grand jury to help us improve our operations. Should we do this? (p. 127)

I've heard about "runaway" grand juries--what does this mean? (p. 253)

Interviewing and the two-person rule

Our procedures manual says we must always have two or more grand jurors present when we interview public employees. Why is this? (p. 50)

Investigations and the investigation process

Are grand jurors trained to base their investigations on facts or do they just shoot from the hip? (pp. 50; 222-224)

How do grand jurors decide what to investigate and who decides the grand jury agenda? (pp. 56-57)

What are examples of statutorily justified investigations? (pp. 110-114)

With what kinds of community issues should the grand jury be concerned? (pp. 220-221; 320-326)

At the end of our term, can we destroy all the information we've collected throughout the year? (p. 235)

Why can't our grand jury hire our own investigators or consultants? (pp. 393, note 22; 401, note 28)

Joint meetings of grand juries

May our civil grand jury meet with the civil grand jury of our neighboring county? (p. 58)


Is the grand jury final report subject to deletions or editing by a judge before it is released to the public? (p. 51)

If we’re an independent body why did our judge read us a long list of what we can and can’t do? (pp. 59-61)

What are the relationships between a judge and a grand jury? (p. 216)


It looks to me like grand jurors are in a good position to recommend legislation to correct some of the problems our state has. Would this be allowed? (p. 30)

A newspaper story in our county said the grand jury can investigate anything it wants to. Is this true? (pp. 30; 390, note 2)

What does “jurisdiction” mean and how is this important for the civil grand jury? (pp. 41; 63; 216-217; 446)

Where do we find the laws or codes that give grand juries their authority? (pp. 42; p. 390, note 2)

How many types of local government are there, and in which of them does the civil grand jury have jurisdiction? (p. 43, Table 3)

A lot of nonprofit corporations in our county receive money from the county. Can a grand jury investigate these groups? (p. 46)

When did grand juries obtain jurisdiction over cities? (p. 47)

Does the grand jury have the authority to investigate the superior court and its employees? (pp. 58; 383, note 5)

Can a grand jury investigate public school districts and make recommendations about their curricula? (pp. 59; 396, note 47; 417, note 37)

Leaks (see Confidentiality and secrecy)

Legal opinions

What are “legal opinions” and what do they have to do with being a grand juror? (pp. 57-59)

Libel and liability of grand jurors

How often are grand jurors sued for libel? (pp. 54-55)

Are grand jurors immune from prosecution in their work? (pp. 54-55; 260; 431, note 80; 446)

In case of a law suit, who defends grand jurors? (p. 58)

How do grand jurors protect themselves from libel? (pp. 217-218; Appendix C, p. 374; Appendix D, pp. 381-382)

Local government, authority of grand juries (see Jurisdiction)

Management and operation of the civil grand jury

How does a grand jury start its work? (pp. 73-74)

Realistically, how much time do civil grand jurors have to complete their work? (p. 74)

What are examples of what civil grand jurors do during their year of service? (pp. 233-235)

Minority reports (see Reports of civil grand juries)

National and state government

Does the grand jury have any authority in matters pertaining to the national or state government? (Table 3, p. 43, Code section 919[b]; pp. 120-122)

News media, public information

What can grand jurors expect in terms of newspaper coverage of our work? (pp. 113; 304; 334-336; 339)

Oaths, hearings, witnesses

Do grand jurors take an oath and if so, what does it require of them? (p. 56)

Policy versus procedure

What do the words “policy” and “procedure” mean, and why is this distinction important for civil grand jurors? (pp. 44-45; 134-136; 220-222; 285-286; 306-307; 316; 417, note 36; see also “Policy” in Glossary, p. 448)

Procedure manuals

What are the “rules of procedure” for grand jurors and where is a reference to these rules found? (pp. 49-51)

Who should write the procedure manual for our grand jury? (pp. 61; 209-210; 256, 291)

Recommendations and responses by public officials

Shouldn’t public officials be required by law to comment or respond to grand jury recommendations? (p. 52)

What effects do grand jury recommendations have on public officials? (pp. 143-144)

Do grand juries ever follow-up on recommendations to see if they have been implemented? (pp. 171-175)

How are public officials notified that they must respond to grand jury recommendations and findings? (p. 178)

Are public officials required to acknowledge civil grand jury reports about their operations? (pp. 178; 202)

Why isn’t there a law that requires public officials to adopt grand jury recommendations? (p. 295)

Records and access to public information

Is there a law that gives grand juries access to public records? (p. 44)

How can grand juries obtain police personnel records? (p. 58)

Reports of civil grand juries

Is it a good idea to pay newspapers to include grand jury reports in one of their editions and is there a less expensive way to do this? (pp. 1; 198-199; 246-247; 316; 419, note 52)

 “Facts,” “findings,” “conclusions,” and “recommendations”: what is their place in civil grand jury reports? (pp. 44; 50; 142-143;194; 227-228; 241; 260-261; 263)

Are grand jury reports public information and if they are, what public official do citizens contact to obtain one? (p. 52)

If a grand jury wants to bring an important investigation to the attention of citizens before the end of its term, can it publish an interim report? (pp. 52-53; 184-185)

What if one or two grand jurors disagree with the other grand jurors? Can they write a minority report? (pp. 53-54; 232)

I heard that a grand jury a couple of years ago issued a final report that they copied word for word from some other grand jury. Is that allowed? (pp. 136; 275)

Is a grand jury limited to publishing only one final report each year? (p. 184)

How should individual investigative reports be organized? (pp. 186-195)

Is it a good idea to pay newspapers to include civil grand jury reports in one of their editions? (pp. 198-199; 245-246; 419, note 52)

How should we organize our grand jury final report? (pp. 236-245)

How can annual reports of grand juries be more effective? (Appendix C, pp. 373-380)

“Runaway” grand juries

I have heard about runaway grand juries. What does this mean? (pp. 252-253)

Selection and training

What provisions are made for training grand jurors? (pp. 222-223; 266-267)

A reporter referred to us as a “blue ribbon grand jury”? Is that a compliment? (p. 265)

Why can’t grand jurors be on a two-year staggered tenure? This would allow a one-half loss and one-half gain each year, and it would mean that at least half the grand jury had some experience. (pp. 270; 425, note 40)

Can a citizen volunteer to be a grand juror? (pp. 270; 424, note 37)

The other day a newspaper article claimed that our grand jury is selected randomly, yet a grand juror recently told me she got on the grand jury because she’s a friend of a county supervisor. How could this happen? (pp. 271-272)

Should public employees serve on grand juries? (pp. 272-275)

Is there a law somewhere that says what qualifications a person must have to be a grand juror? (pp. 276-277)

Should the system of selecting grand jurors be changed in this state? (pp. 277-278)

Why are grand jurors in office for only one year? Doesn’t this mean that a lot of work doesn’t get done? (p. 295)

State grand jury

Is there a state grand jury in California that functions like a county grand jury? (pp. 34; 296)

Statutes and codes

Is the grand jury a common law institution today? (pp. 39; 41; 254)

In which code are most of the statutes regarding the civil grand jury found? (pp. 42-51)

Which statute may be thought of as the Magna Carta of the civil grand jury? (pp. 49-50)

Are grand jury statutes found anywhere besides the penal code? (pp. 391, note 7)

Do other states of our country have a civil grand jury like ours in California? (p. 420, note 9)


Why is validity an important criterion for deciding whether a grand jury investigation can be relied on? (pp. 31-32; 65; 136-141; 222-226; 375-376; 449)


How many jurors have to agree on something before it’s decided? (pp. 49; 62)


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