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 Jury Resources tab and clicking on Legal & Legislative Resources. All 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.

The information provided here is 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. Please click on one of these links to jump directly to that topic:

Grand Jury Procedures and Members

Grand Jury Investigations

Grand Jury Interviews

Grand Jury Reports

Questions Regarding Grand Jury Procedures and Members:


Q. Can a current or former employee of a local governmental agency be on a grand jury?
A. Yes, but if employed within three years, the juror must report that employment to the presiding judge and the foreperson and recuse him/herself from any investigation or report on that agency (PC 916.2).



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 procedure (PC 916). However, rather than draft a new set of rules, it is more practical for a grand jury to adopt and follow an existing manual and make whatever amendments the sitting grand jury deems necessary.



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



Q. Are grand jurors required to file a Form 700 (a Statement of Economic Interests) with the county upon becoming grand jurors?
A. Yes, according to opinions issued by the Fair Political Practices Commission.



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 term (PC 901 (b)). The code does not explicitly allow for service for more than two consecutive terms. However, a few courts allow a juror to sit for more than two years, so we recommend consultation with the court or grand jury’s legal advisor on this issue.



Q. Can a grand juror vote on a final report by proxy, conference call, or other absentee method?
A. A proxy gives a person’s right to vote to another person. As the juror who has given his/her right to vote to another juror would not be able to hear and take part in the deliberations leading up to the vote, LLRC does not believe that a proxy vote should be allowed. A grand jury can adopt rules which allow a juror who for good cause cannot be present during a meeting to “attend” it by conference call, thus allowing the juror to fully participate in the deliberations and voting.



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 members that must be present at a meeting of a committee or the plenary in order to conduct business. We recommend that the number of members necessary to constitute a quorum be set forth within the grand jury's rules of procedure. A committee or the plenary may meet without a quorum being present, but would be unable to conduct any business on behalf of the group.



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. PC 905 reiterates this requirement.



Q. When does a grand jury’s term end?
A. When its 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.



Q. May a sworn-in alternate juror participate in the 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 which prohibit the disclosure of evidence (PC 924.1).



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 stances on political candidates or issues during their term of service to avoid conflicts of interest or potential allegations of bias.



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 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 its file should be passed forward to the succeeding grand jury as allowed under PC 924.4.



Q. Can a grand jury vote to remove one or more of its members?
A. No, we believe that as the 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 a foreperson bar a disruptive juror from attending meetings?
A. No, if the foreperson cannot end the disruptive behavior, he/she can only ask the presiding or supervising judge to intervene and possibly remove the disruptive juror.



Q. Can members of a grand jury be excluded from meetings of a committee of which they are not members?
A. No, there is no authority in the Penal Code for limiting a grand juror’s participation based on committee assignment.



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 grand 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 except for records passed to the next grand jury, confidential documents ordinarily be shredded at the end of the term. However, if the jury or its legal advisor is concerned about the possibility of a defamation lawsuit, we recommend that the documents related to that investigation be given to the jury’s legal advisor, who may need them for the jury’s defense if suit is filed. 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. Yes, 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 they be kept in a place readily accessible to the jury for research purposes. We also recommend that the reports and responses be posted on the grand jury’s website.



Q. May a grand jury use email amongst its members and still maintain confidentiality?
A. Yes, we believe that by keeping any 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 this and document the practice in its Rules of Procedure. The assistance of the county Information Technology experts may be sought if necessary.


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Questions Regarding Grand Jury Investigations:


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. Yes, a grand jury does have this power, but we recommend that the grand jury consult with the DA 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. Can a grand jury rely upon evidence gathered by its predecessor in its investigation and report?
A. No, while the current grand jury is allowed to review any civil investigation files and records a previous grand jury passed forward to it, the current jury cannot rely on that material without its own verification of the evidence in its own investigation (PC 939.9).



Q. Do the laws requiring confidentiality allow jurors to discuss an ongoing investigation with prior grand jurors in confidence?
A. No, sections 924 through 924.3 of the Penal Code provide no exception for talking in confidence to former or succeeding grand jurors. Each grand jury is a separate body and must maintain the confidentiality of its proceedings, deliberations, and votes.



Q. Is a grand jury permitted to investigate charter schools?
A. Yes, charter schools are public schools and 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.



Q. Is a supermajority vote needed before a committee of the grand jury initiates an investigation, 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. PC 916 provides that “all public actions” of the grand jury require the concurrence of a supermajority of the panel. We believe “public action” means any action that would reveal to a member of the public confidential information, such as the existence or nature of an investigation. Actions such as an interview or a request for documents would reveal such information; therefore they require supermajority authorization. The supermajority can authorize a full investigation, including any interviews or document requests 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. Can a local governmental agency refuse to produce records requested by a grand jury?
A. Yes, 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) may outweigh the grand jury’s investigative function.



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.



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. No report should be issued until after the matter is discussed with the grand jury’s legal advisor.



Q. May a GJ investigate a nonprofit corporation?
A. Yes; but only if the nonprofit corporation was established by or operated 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 whether the governmental agency is getting what it expected from the funding but may not conduct a general investigation into the operation and finances of the nonprofit.



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), and must additionally inquire into the condition and management of the public prisons in the county and into the willful or corrupt misconduct of a public officer (PC 919).



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 relates to a federal agency or a private individual).



Q. Can a grand jury investigate and report on a topic that is the subject of a pending civil lawsuit?
A. Yes, but the grand jury should consult with its legal advisor before starting any investigation into a matter that is in litigation. 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 lawsuit itself 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 required to launch an investigation on every complaint it receives?
A. No, the grand jury has complete discretion in deciding which, if any, citizen complaints to investigate.



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.


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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 disabled juror to be present during an interview in a watchdog investigation. (PC 939) However, CGJA 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 union representative).



Q. If an interviewee is subpoenaed to attend a civil grand jury interview, does the interviewee have the right to have counsel present in the room?

A. No. An interviewee in a civil grand jury investigation has no right to have counsel or any other representative present in the room, whether or not the interviewee is served with a subpoena. However, CGJA believes that the interviewee may take a recess during the interview to leave the room to consult with counsel (but not with any other representative).



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 foreperson 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 concerned about the truthfulness of the interviewee. Some juries routinely administer an oath.



Q. What is the difference between an admonition and an oath?

A. An admonition is a directive to an interviewee that he/she 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.



Q. Who can administer an admonition or an oath?

A. 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. 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). We believe 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 grand jury will meet with more than one “subject,” because the jury is investigating more than one department or entity. We recommend that in addition to the meeting, the grand jury always conduct an exit interview with the “subject” to ensure the accuracy of the draft report’s findings. (PC 933.05(d)).



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. We suggest that as a first step, the foreperson, without revealing any confidential information, 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 DA, or a DA’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 record an interview? Can the interviewee?
A. Yes, 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 recording in order to protect grand jury confidentiality.



Q. Does a grand jury always have to interview three people to verify each fact in its report?
A. No, however we recommend that as a general rule, the grand jury triangulate each fact, that is, make sure each fact is supported by three sources. The sources can be any combination of interviews, research, or observations. However, highly reliable government records need not be confirmed. For example, the grand jury would not need to confirm official federal census information.



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 his or her job at risk. In order to encourage candor from these sources, we recommend that the grand jury hide their identities to prevent possible retaliation by the public entity. We recommend that the names or facts that could lead to the identity of a source of information not appear in a grand jury report. The jury should also be sure to 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)), it is not required to write a report about that inquiry. CGJA believes that “public prison” means a state-operated adult correctional facility, including a state conservation camp. A grand jury has the discretion to investigate county- or city-owned detention facilities, but when it chooses to do so, no report is mandated. (PC 925; PC 925a)



Q. Are members of a grand jury permitted to file a minority report?
A. No, the grand jury can only act through a supermajority. Minority reports are not permitted, and the Court will refuse to allow them to be released.



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; PC 933(c) requires that governing bodies respond to findings and recommendations pertaining to matters under their control within 90 days, and that elected officers or agency heads respond within 60 days. “Elected” is the operative word. The grand jury may, however, request, and will frequently receive, a response from an appointed department head.



Q. May a grand jury include unverified evidentiary material in its report?
A. Only under limited circumstances. 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”), but only with the explicit approval of the presiding or supervising judge. 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. 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. Can a grand jury change its report before it is publicly distributed?
A. Yes. We believe that the reason for the requirement that the final report be given to the board or department head at least two business days before it is made public (PC 933.05) is in part to give them an opportunity to point out something in the report the grand jury should change.



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 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 the grand jury ask persons who are not local public officials to respond to a grand jury report?
A. No: there is no authority for a grand jury to require or request a private person to respond to the findings or recommendations contained within a grand jury report.



Q. What may the grand jury do if a board or official refuses to follow the recommendations in its report (or a report issued by last year's grand jury)?
A. The grand jury has no enforcement powers and cannot make a local official or entity comply with its recommendations. However, if the problem continues to exist, a later grand jury can conduct a new investigation on that topic and issue its own report.



Q. Must grand juries evaluate responses to the previous jury’s reports?
A. No; there is no legal requirement to do so, but CGJA strongly recommends that juries evaluate responses and follow up to see if the officials and entities 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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