Grand Jury FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

CGJA’s Legal and Legislative Resources Committee (LLRC) responds to questions from grand jurors, CGJA members and chapters, court personnel, and grand jury legal advisors about grand jury functions and procedures. Authorized individuals may submit questions by going to the Grand Jury Resources tab and clicking on Legal & Legislative Resources. Questions submitted to the LLRC must be phrased in a hypothetical manner to avoid the divulging of confidential information. 

The following questions are those that have come up most frequently in recent years. The information provided in our answers is based solely on LLRC’s familiarity with grand jury law and practices in California. These answers are not intended to be legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such. Grand jurors should consult with their authorized legal counsel whenever legal issues arise.

All references are to the California Penal Code (PC) unless otherwise stated.

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Grand Jury Procedures and Members

Grand Jury Investigations

Grand Jury Interviews

Grand Jury Reports

Questions Regarding Grand Jury Procedures and Members:


Q. May a current or former employee of a local governmental agency be on a grand jury?
A. Yes. But a grand juror who has been employed during the prior three years by a local agency that the grand jury is authorized to investigate must report that employment to the presiding judge and the foreperson and recuse from any investigation or report on that agency. (PC §916.2)



Q. Can a grand juror serve consecutive terms on a grand jury?
A. Yes. The presiding judge is allowed to name up to 10 sitting jurors, who so consent, to hold over for a second year. (PC §901 (b)) The code does not explicitly allow for service for more than two consecutive years. However, a few courts allow a juror to sit for more than two consecutive years, so we recommend consultation with the court or grand jury's legal advisor on this issue.



Q. May a sworn-in alternate juror participate in grand jury proceedings, such as sitting in on interviews, before being impaneled?
A. No. Alternates cannot participate in any way in grand jury proceedings. They are not members of the grand jury until impaneled. Allowing an alternate to sit in on an interview would violate the rules of confidentiality that prohibit the disclosure of evidence to non-jurors. (PC §924.1) 



Q. Are grand jurors entitled to compensation for their service and reimbursement for expenses they might incur?
A. Yes. Grand jurors are entitled to $15 per diem for the meetings they attend and reimbursement for mileage at the rate paid to county employees, unless higher rates are authorized by county ordinance. (PC §890 and §890.1) Jurors are also entitled to reimbursement for authorized expenses in accordance with the rules established by their individual county.



Q. Can a superior court seat a grand jury every other year rather than annually?
A. No. Article 1, Section 23 of the California Constitution requires that at least one grand jury be impaneled each year in each county. Penal Code section 905 reiterates this requirement.



Q. Does a grand jury have to follow the prior grand jury's procedures manual?
A. No. Each grand jury must adopt its own rules of precedure. (PC §916) However, rather than draft a new set of rules, it is more practical for a grand jury to initially adopt and follow an existing procedures manual and then make whatever amendments the sitting grand jury deems necessary.



Q. What is a quorum? Can a grand jury meeting take place with less than a quorum present?
A. A quorum is the predetermined number of jurors that must be present at a meeting of the plenary in order to conduct business. The Penal Code does not prescribe a quorum, but section 916 requires a supermajority vote on the entire jury for "public actions" (see #20), and many grand juries have that number of jurors as a quorum. The plenary may meet withour a supermajority being present, but would be unable to make important decisions on behelf of the jury.



Q. Cab a grand juror who will be absent from a meeting vote by proxy?
A. A proxy gives a person's right to vote to another person. The grand jury is a collegial body, and each member is expected to take part in deliberations. Because the absent juror would not be able to hear and take part in deliberations leading up to the vote, LLRC does not believe that a proxy vote should be allowed.



Q. May a grand jury conduct virtual meetings?
A. While a meeting in person is better, there are times when weather or other impediments can prohibit a juror from attending a meeting. There is nothing in the Penal Code that would prohibit a grand jury from conducting a meeting electronically or by using a conference phone. However, all of the jurors must be able to hear all of the other participants during the meeting and have the ability to contribute to the discussion.



Q. May a grand jury use email among its members and still maintain confidentiality?
A. Yes. LLRC believes that by keeping and confidential material in password-protected attachments and not in the body of the email message, adequate protection of confidentiality can be maintained. It is up to each grand jury to decide whether and how to use email and document the practice in its rules (its procedures manual). The assistance of the county's information technology staff may be sought if necessary.



Q. May sitting grand jurors be involved in political campaign activities?
A. While grand jurors do not lose their rights as citizens to engage in the political process, they should not link their status as grand jurors to any political endorsements or imply that their position has something to do with information they received during confidential grand jury proceedings. Many grand jurors just decide not to take public stances on political candidates or issues during their term of service to avoid conflicts of interest or potential allegations of bias.



Q. Are grand jurors subject to the Political Reform Act’s recusal requirements? Are there other reasons to recuse?
A. Yes. According to the Fair Political Practices Commission, the Political Reform Act, which prohibits government officials and employees from having financial conflicts of interest, applies to grand jurors and can require their recusal from all aspects of a grand jury investigation and report. Grand jurors must also recuse due to recent local agency employment (see #1, above) and in situations involving other types of real or perceived conflicts or bias. 



Q. May a recused grand juror be interviewed as part of the investigation?
A. No. A recusal must be complete. The recused juror cannot discuss the topic with any other juror, be interviewed on the topic, or take part in any aspect of the investigation or the writing or editing of the report. The juror may not vote on any motion related to the investigation or report and should leave the room when the investigation or report is being discussed. 



Q. What happens if a grand jury discovers mid-investigation that one of the jurors has a conflict of interest and should never have been involved?
A. The juror with the conflict of interest should be recused from the rest of the investigation and the writing of the report and should not participate in any deliberations or vote on the matter. In addition, the jury should consult with its legal advisor to determine if the investigation is so tainted by the appearance of impropriety that the jury should terminate its investigation and forward its investigative file to the succeeding grand jury as allowed under Penal Code section 924.4. (See item #17)



Q. Can a grand jury vote to remove one or more of its members?
A. No. Because the superior court has sole authority for selecting members of the grand jury and for filling vacancies that occur (PC §893-§913), only the court can remove a sitting grand juror.



Q. Can members of a grand jury be excluded from meetings of a committee of which they are not members?
A. There is no authority in the Penal Code for limiting a grand juror’s participation based on committee assignment, unless the juror must be recused because of an actual or perceived bias or conflict of interest.



Q. What should the grand jury do with its confidential records and documents at the end of its term?
A. The grand jury, on a supermajority vote, may pass to the succeeding grand jury confidential records and documents related to one or more of the jury’s civil investigations. (PC §924.4) This is usually done because the jury did not have time to complete an investigation on that topic. While the Penal Code does not mention records retention or destruction, we recommend that those civil investigative files that are not passed forward be sealed and held in a locked file for one year or forwarded to the grand jury's legal advisor so they can be available for the court to pass forward on its own directive, or for the legal advisor to defend against a possible defamation lawsuit. All other confidential documents, such as meeting minutes, should be shredded at the end of the term. Public domain documents may be kept in the grand jury's library for the use of succeeding juries. Grand juries should consult with their legal advisors about document management and should consider adding a document management policy to their procedures manuals.



Q. Is there a statutory requirement that grand juries keep or store their reports and the responses received in any particular location or for any particular length of time?
A. The grand jury must maintain a copy of each report and all the responses it receives for a minimum of five years. (PC §933) Exactly where the reports and responses must be stored is not specified, but we recommend that hard copies be kept in a place readily accessible to the jury for research purposes. They should also be posted on the grand jury’s website. We believe that posting the reports and responses on the website for five years meets the requirement of Penal Code section 933.



Q. When does a grand jury’s term end?
A. The term ends when the successor grand jury is impaneled and sworn unless it has been sooner discharged by the court. (PC §905.5) The superior court can extend the grand jury’s term by not discharging it or impaneling a new grand jury.


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Questions Regarding Grand Jury Investigations:


Q. Is a supermajority vote needed before a committee of the grand jury conducts an interview or requests that an entity provide copies of specific records?
A. Yes, unless the entire jury, by a supermajority vote, has already authorized a full investigation. Penal Code section 916 provides that “all public actions” of the grand jury require the concurrence of a supermajority of the panel. LLRC believes that “public action” means any action that would reveal to a member of the public information about a proposed or pending investigation. Conducting an interview or requesting documents would reveal such information and thus requires supermajority authorization. The supermajority can authorize a full investigation, including any interviews or document requests or site visits the committee might decide are needed, or it can limit its authorization to specific interviews or requests and decide later whether to allow a full investigation.



Q. Is there any required number or type of agencies a grand jury must investigate?
A. Yes. A grand jury must investigate and report on at least one county agency or function. (PC §925) In addition, the jury must inquire into the condition and management of the public prisons in the county and the willful or corrupt misconduct of any public officer. (PC §919)



Q. Are there "statutes of limitations" that relates to grand jury investigations?
A. Yes and no. There is an explicit statute of limitations - six years - for bringing an accusation to remove a person from a public office. Beyond that the law does not prohibit the grand jury from investigating events that happened in the past  Most juries focus their watchdog investigations on current or recent events or practices, since the goal of the watchdog function is to improve the operations of local government.



Q. Is a grand jury required to launch an investigation on every complaint it receives?
A. No, the grand jury has complete discretion in deciding which, if any, citizens' complaints to investigate.



Q. Is it proper for a grand jury to tell a complainant whether it has chosen to investigate or not investigate the complaint?
A. No. Providing this information would reveal the nature, scope, or direction of the grand jury’s investigation and thus would violate confidentiality requirements. (Los Angeles Times v Superior Court (2003) 114 Cal. App. 4th 247) However, we believe that a grand jury may adopt a procedural rule that it will notify individual complainants on a case-by-case basis when the grand jury does not have the jurisdiction to investigate the complaint (for example, if the complaint is aimed at a federal agency or a private individual).



Q. Do the laws requiring confidentiality allow jurors to discuss an ongoing investigation with prior grand jurors?
A. No. each grand jury is a separate body and must maintain the confidentiality of its preceedings, deliberations, and votes. The Penal Code provides no exception for talking in confidence to former or succeeding grand jurors. Grand jurors may not be questioned about anything they say during grand jury meetings or proceedings (PC §924.3) and revealing such information is a misdemeanor. (PC §924.1)



Q. May a grand jury use a written survey to gather evidence?
A. The Penal Code does not explicitly prohibit the use of written surveys, but they pose confidentiality risks, as the grand jury has no way to prevent the recipient from sharing the survey with others. In addition, investigating a large number of entities can be very time consuming. The grand jury must verify any information gained from the survey if it is to be included in the report because answers to the survey questions are considered "raw evidence" until verified. If a grand jury report directs any findings or recommendations to one of the surveyed entities, the jury must interview a representative of that entity unless the court finds that doing so would be detrimental. (PC §933.05(e))


Q. How does a grand jury verify the information it gathers during an investigation?
A. We recommend that as a general rule, the grand jury make sure that each fact is supported by at least three varied sources. The sources can be any combination of interviews, research, or observations. However, highly reliable government records, such as state or federal data or published reports, as long as they are confirmed as being current, may not need to be verified. For example, the grand jury would not need to verify official federal census information, but should confirm that the information is current.



Q. Can a local governmental agency refuse to produce records requested by a grand jury?
A. Although the grand jury is allowed “free access … to the examination of all public records within the county” (PC §921), there are exceptions to that access, particularly where the confidentiality requirements of certain records (e.g., juvenile court records or medical or psychiatric records, or attorney/client privileged communications) outweigh the grand jury’s investigative function.



Q. Can a grand jury use the evidence gathered by its predecessor in its investigation and report?
A. While the current grand jury is allowed to review any civil investigation files and records a previous grand jury passed forward to it pursuant to Penal Code section 924.4, the current jury can only use the material that it verifies through its own investigation. (PC §939.9)



Q. Can a grand jury investigate a complaint regarding a criminal matter either before or during the trial, or while an appeal is pending?
A. The grand jury does have this power, but we recommend that the jury consult with the district attorney or county counsel before starting the investigation. The grand jury must take care to avoid interfering with a criminal prosecution or the appearance that it is investigating the court (which is a state agency, outside the grand jury’s jurisdiction).



Q. What should a grand jury do if it has a reasonable basis to believe its investigation has uncovered criminal activity?
A. We recommend that the grand jury immediately contact the district attorney for assistance in determining how to proceed. No report should be issued until after the matter is discussed with the grand jury’s legal advisor.



Q. Does the grand jury have the authority to review and investigate complaints of prisoners held in a prison or jail within the county?
A. Yes, if the complaint involves the condition or management of the prison or jail. (PC §919) The grand jury may not investigate how the court conducted the trial or sentenced the prisoner, because the courts and judges are state entities and personnel and are outside the grand jury’s jurisdiction.



Q. Can a grand jury investigate and report on a topic that is the subject of a pending civil lawsuit?
A. Yes, but the jury should consult with its legal advisor before starting the investigation. The Penal Code does not prohibit a grand jury from investigating a matter that is being litigated. However, the jury might want to refrain from doing so in order to avoid confusing witnesses, interfering with the attorney/client relationship, or appearing that the jury is “taking sides” in the dispute. If the jury writes a report, it should avoid any comment about the conduct of the court proceedings because the courts and judges are state agencies and officials, and are outside the scope of the grand jury’s jurisdiction.



Q. Can a grand jury investigate allegations of police misconduct, and in connection with the investigation, review confidential police personnel records?
A. Yes. A grand jury may investigate alleged police misconduct and may examine peace officer personnel records, including citizens’ complaints, without a subpoena or court order. (PC §832.7)



Q. Is a grand jury permitted to investigate charter schools?
A. Yes. Nearly all charter schools are chartered by a school district or county board of education and are subject to the grand jury's jurisdiction. They may be investigated on the same subjects as non-charter schools, i.e., administration, financial matters, and compliance with its adopted procedures, but not curriculum, policy choices, or personnel decisions. A very few charter schools are chartered by the State Board of Education and are not under the grand jury's jurisdiction.



Q. May a grand jury investigate a nonprofit corporation?
A. Yes, but only if the nonprofit corporation was created by or is operating on behalf of a public entity. (PC §933.6) However, if a local governmental agency is providing funding or grants to a nonprofit corporation neither established by it, nor operated on its behalf, a grand jury can only investigate the governmental agency to determine whether it is getting what it expected from the funding. It may not conduct a general investigation into the operation and finances of the nonprofit.


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Questions Regarding Grand Jury Interviews:


Q. Can a local official the grand jury wants to interview require that the jury submit its interview questions to the official in advance?
A. No. Submitting interview questions in advance would improperly reveal the nature, scope, and/or direction of the grand jury’s investigation and would thus violate the grand jury’s confidentiality obligations. (Los Angeles Times v Superior Court (2003) 114 Cal. App. 4th 247)



Q. Can a grand jury go through an intermediary, such as an official’s secretary, to set up interviews?
A. Yes, but care must be taken not to reveal the topic being investigated or any other confidential information.



Q. May an interviewee be represented by counsel while being interviewed by the grand jury?
A. No. There is no authority for any person other than the grand jurors, the district attorney, or an interpreter (for a witness or a disabled juror) to be present during an interview in a watchdog investigation. (PC §939) This is so even if the interviewee has been subpoenaed. However, LLRC believes that the interviewee may take a recess during the interview to leave the room to consult with counsel (but not to consult with a co-worker or a union representative). 



Q. What is the difference between an admonition and an oath?
A. An admonition is a directive to an interviewee that they may not reveal questions asked by the jurors, the interviewee’s responses to the questions, or any other matters concerning the investigation that the interviewee learned during the interview. A violation of an admonition may subject the interviewee to a contempt of court charge. An oath is a promise by a witness to tell the truth during the interview. A violation of an oath may subject the witness to a perjury charge. Any juror can give the admonition. In contrast, only the foreperson, or in the foreperson's absence or disqualification, the pro tempore, may administer an oath. (PC §939.4).



Q. Must an interviewee appearing before a grand jury as part of a civil investigation be placed under oath?
A. No. Penal Code section 939.4 allows, but does not require, the forperson to place an interviewee under oath during an interview in a civil investigation. Many juries never use the oath, believing that it makes the interviewee defensive and less willing to be forthcoming. Others do so only when they are investigating a potential acusation (charges that could result in an official's removal from office) or are concerned about the truthfulness of the interviewee. 



Q. Is there anyone a grand jury must interview when conducting an investigation?
A. Yes, with a very limited exception. The grand jury must “meet with the subject of the investigation regarding the investigation, unless the court … determines that such a meeting would be detrimental.” (PC §933.05(e))  LLRC believes that “the subject of the investigation” means the department head or other official or board in charge of the matter under investigation. We suggest that the meeting be conducted as an interview. In some investigations, the jury will meet with more than one “subject,” because the jury is investigating more than one department or entity. In addition to the meeting, the grand jury should always conduct an exit interview with the “subject” to ensure the accuracy of the draft report’s findings. (See #47 below)



Q. Can a grand jury interview private individuals?
A. Yes. There is nothing in the Penal Code that would prohibit a grand jury from interviewing private persons who have information about the topic under investigation.



Q. What can a grand jury do if a proposed interviewee refuses to attend the interview?
A. As a first step, the foreperson can try to determine the reason for the refusal and persuade the person to attend the interview. If the person still refuses to appear, the grand jury could ask its legal advisor to contact the reluctant interviewee. As a last resort, a judge, the district attorney, or a district attorney’s investigator may issue a subpoena on the grand jury’s behalf, compelling the person to attend the interview as a witness. (PC §939.2)



Q. Can a grand jury conduct an interview by phone or by using a virtual meeting service?
A. While in-person interviews are always preferable, we believe that a grand jury is not prohibited from conducting an interview by conference call or by using an electronic meeting service. However, care must be taken to confirm that the interview cannot be overheard by others. And there must always be at least two jurors present and able to hear the whole content of the interview. (PC §916)



Q. Can a grand jury record an interview? Can the interviewee?
A. A grand jury can record an interview, but only with the consent of the interviewee.  An interviewee has no right to record the interview. We recommend that the jury refuse to allow an interviewee to record in order to protect grand jury confidentiality.



Q. Must a grand jury conduct an exit interview?
A. Penal Code section 933.05(d) allows a grand jury to meet with a representative of the entity it investigated to read and discuss the findings contained in the final draft of the report. CGJA calls this meeting, which is conducted in an inbterview format, an "exit interview". While an exit interview is not required by law, we highly recommend it so that the grand jury can confirm that its finding are accurate and up to date.



Q. How can the grand jury protect a whistleblower?
A. A whistleblower is a public employee or contractor who provides information to the grand jury that might put their job at risk. In order to encourage candor from these sources, the grand jury should hide their identities to prevent possible retaliation by the public entity. The names or facts that could lead to the identity of a source of information should never appear in a grand jury report. The jury should also interview enough employees or contractors holding similar jobs so that the entity cannot determine who provided the information in question.


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Questions Regarding Grand Jury Reports:


Q. Does the grand jury have to write a report on its county’s prisons or jails?
A. No. While a grand jury is required to “inquire” into the management and condition of public prisons in the county (PC §919(b)), the Penal Code does not require the grand jury to write a report about that inquiry.



Q. Are members of a grand jury permitted to file a minority report?
A. No. The grand jury must adopt each of its reports by a supermajority vote. PC §916) Because all reports are "final reports" (PC§933), there can be just one report from each investigation. (See Unnamed Minority Members (etc.) Grand Jury v Superior Court (1989) 208 Cal. App, 3d 1344)



Q. May a grand jury include unverified evidentiary material in its report?
A. Only with the explicit approval of the presiding or supervising judge. With that approval, a grand jury report can discuss or have attached to it unverified evidentiary material (such as transcripts of interviews, counsel’s opinion letters, or other “raw evidence”). Even with that approval, the evidentiary material cannot reveal the name or facts that would identify any witness who provided specific information to the grand jury. (PC §929)



Q. May a grand jury issue an “informational” report (one without any findings or recommendations)?
A. There is no authority for the grand jury to issue informational reports. The Penal Code requires grand jury reports to contain findings, and if problems are identified in the findings, they must also contain recommendations for corrective action. (PC §933(c)) The role of the grand jury is to determine the facts and issue findings (its analysis of what those facts “mean”), not just to record what evidence the jury uncovered.




Q. Can a grand jury report reveal the identity of witnesses?
A. No. A grand jury report must never reveal, directly or indirectly, the identity of any person who provided information to the grand jury. (McClatchy Newspapers v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal. 3d 1162; PC §929)



Q. Is the grand jury required to have its draft reports reviewed by its legal advisor?
A. No. However, we strongly recommend that the grand jury do so (unless their legal advisor is disqualified due to a conflict of interest) because counsel can confirm that the topic is within the jury's jurisdiction, verify the report’s references to the law, help the jury avoid claims of defamation, and point out other possible problems with the report.



Q. Can a grand jury change its report before it is publicly distributed?
A. Yes. We believe that one of the reasons for the requirement that the final report be given to the board or official at least two business days before it is made public (PC §933.05) is to give them an opportunity to point out any errors in the report, The grand jury can pull the report and consider whether to change it, perhaps after extending its investigation.                 



Q. Is there a “drop dead” date by which a grand jury must submit its final reports to the court?
A. Yes. The date is the end of the grand jury’s term. The term ends when the jury is discharged by the court. There is no grace period. “Final reports on any appropriate subject may be submitted to the presiding judge of the superior court at any time during the term of service of a grand jury.” (PC §933(a)) A grand jury has no power to submit reports after its term ends.



Q. Does Penal Code section 933(c) authorize a grand jury to require an appointed department head, such as a police chief, to respond to grand jury findings and recommendations?
A. No. Penal Code section 933(c) requires that governing bodies respond to findings and recommendations pertaining to matters under their control within 90 days, and that elected county officers or agency heads respond within 60 days. "Elected county" is the oerative term. The grand jury may, however, request, and will frequently receive, a response from an appointed official.



Q. Can the grand jury ask persons who are not local public officials to respond to a grand jury report?
A. There is no authority for a grand jury to require or request a private person to respond to the findings or recommendations in a grand jury report.



Q. What may the grand jury do if a board or official refuses to accept and follow the recommendations in a grand jury report?
A. The grand jury cannot make a local official or board agree to or comply with its recommendations. Penal Code section 933.05 allows the respondent to decline to implement the report's recommendations. However, if the problem identified in the report continues to exist, a later grand jury can conduct a new investigation on that topic and issue its own report and its own findings and recommendations.



Q. Must grand juries evaluate responses to the previous jury’s reports?
A. No. While there is no legal requirement to do so, LLRC strongly recommends that juries review responses for compliance with statutory mandates. They may also investigate and report on whether the officials and boards have done what they represented in their responses they would do. This process, if conducted routinely year to year, will help maintain public pressure on government entities to treat grand jury reports seriously.


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