The Grand Jury in California is unique in its function and selection process compared to other juries, including petit and trial juries and federal grand juries. Each county is required by law to impanel a body of 19 or 23 members, depending on county population, to serve for a term of one year, from July 1 to June 30. This body is mandated to investigate and report on both criminal and civil matters within the county.
The major functions of the Grand Jury are divided into criminal indictments and civil investigations. While the same panel in San Bernardino County executes both functions, the civil investigation portion requires the majority of time.
The civil, or “watchdog”, responsibilities of the Grand Jury include the examination of all aspects of County government, including special districts, to ensure the County is being governed honestly and efficiently, and County monies are being handled appropriately. The Grand Jury is mandated by law to inquire into the conditions and management of public jails.
Investigations may be conducted on public agencies, the administration and affairs of any city within the County, or the examination of books and records of redevelopment agencies. It is also appropriate for any private citizen, County official or County employee to present a written complaint to the Grand Jury for investigation.
During its term, the Grand Jury may select the government affairs it wishes to investigate. These investigations are conducted by Grand Jury committees in cooperation with the departments and agencies of the County. The Grand Jury may ask for support and advice from the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court, the District Attorney, County Counsel or the Attorney General.
At the end of its year of service, the Grand Jury is required by law to submit a final report to the presiding judge of the Superior Court. These reports, with appropriate recommendations, include studies and investigations conducted by the Jury during its term. Each County entity investigated receives a copy of its individual report, with a stipulation that the responsible governing bodies make response to findings/recommendations within 90 days. The public may find Grand Jury reports at most public libraries.
The law states Grand Jurors must have the following qualifications:
- Citizen of the United States, 18 years of age or older. Resident of state and county or city and county for one year prior to being selected. In possession of natural faculties, ordinary intelligence, sound judgment, and fair character. Possess sufficient knowledge of the English language.
Beyond the legal requirements, there are more specific qualifications desirable for a grand juror:
- A general knowledge of the functions, authorities and responsibilities of county and city governments and other civil entities.
- Research abilities, including complex reading capabilities, background in assessing/analyzing facts and report writing.
- Substantial background in group/committee work.
- Good to excellent health.
- Respect and objectivity concerning the positions and views of others.
Panels of judges review applicants for Grand Jury service. Every effort is made to recruit men and women from all socio-economic levels, ethnic and age groups. Applicants are judged on the knowledge, skills and abilities required for successful performance as a Grand Juror.
Applicants who are found to be best qualified, interested and available to serve will be given a background check by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office and become a finalist for the list of potential Grand Jurors, which may not exceed 30 names.
In order to comply with the law, potential Grand Jurors are selected from the County Supervisorial Districts in proportion to the population of those districts. In San Bernardino County, six applicants from each of the five Supervisorial Districts are named to the Grand Jury panel.
The 30 persons selected will constitute the Grand Jury panel and are summoned to appear in court where all names are placed in a lottery draw. The first 19 names chosen become the next San Bernardino County Grand Jury. The remaining names are retained for use as alternates when necessary.
Shortly before the beginning of the Grand Jury term of service, an orientation process is conducted. The presiding judge of the Superior Court selects the foreperson, with all other officers chosen by the Jury itself.
The complex, diverse responsibilities of Grand Jurors make it necessary to give a serious commitment to the time requirements. The Grand Jury term is for one year and the usual work week is three to four days. Additionally, attendance at some evening meetings may be required.
Jurors are provided with meeting facilities and adjacent parking in San Bernardino. Jurors are paid $25 per day and compensated for mileage and meals at the allowable County rate.