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A Guide to “Grand Jury” Proceedings in California

By Spodek Law Group | February 12, 2023

What is a Grand Jury in California Law?

A Grand Jury in California law is a powerful independent body made up of selected citizens of a county, tasked with performing critical functions such as determining whether charges should be brought against a potential criminal defendant and inquiring into matters of civil concern in the county. They serve as an arm of the court, with the primary focus on their criminal function.

The Criminal Function of Grand Juries

In California, the decision to bring felony charges against a defendant can be made in two ways. Prosecutors may either hold a “preliminary hearing” before a judge or magistrate, or they may opt for a grand jury proceeding. During a preliminary hearing, the defendant is present and represented by a criminal defense lawyer, and if the judge determines that there is sufficient evidence, the defendant will be charged through an “information.”

On the other hand, grand juries are conducted without the defendant’s presence, and if the jury finds probable cause to try the defendant, they will be charged through an “indictment.” Unlike preliminary hearings, grand juries are held before the defendant’s arraignment, the first step in the California criminal court process.

When are Grand Juries Used in California Criminal Cases?

While the vast majority of felony charges in California are brought through the preliminary hearing process, district attorneys may opt for a grand jury indictment in certain circumstances. This includes cases of high public interest, cases where a preliminary hearing would take more time, cases involving witnesses who are children or incarcerated in state prison, cases where the prosecution wants to test the case before a jury, and cases of wrongdoing by a public officeholder.

In some California counties, such as Placer County, the same jury focuses on both criminal and civil matters, while in others like Contra Costa County, Los Angeles County, and San Francisco County, the functions are divided between different groups.

What is a Grand Jury in California?

A grand jury is a legal process that occurs in serious state and federal felony cases in California. This process involves a group of citizens from the community who convene to evaluate whether there is enough evidence to charge or indict the target for criminal offenses.

The Role of Grand Juries in Felony Cases

Felony charges in California can be brought in two ways. First, through an “information” filed by the district attorney after a preliminary hearing. Second, through an “indictment” brought by grand juries. It’s essential to note that grand juries differ from the petit jury that you find at a criminal jury trial. The petit jury decides whether the defendant is guilty or innocent, while the grand jury determines whether there is probable cause to believe that the defendant may have committed the crime.

California Grand Jury Proceedings

Each California county determines the specific procedures for creating grand juries. To select criminal grand jurors, eligible citizens are chosen randomly from a pool. The most interesting thing about grand juries is that the defendant is not present, and they may not even know that it’s occurring. Instead, the prosecutor presents evidence, including witness testimony, to convince the jury that there is probable cause to charge the defendant with a crime.

Example of a Grand Jury in California

For example, suppose the district attorney of a California county has been investigating a suspected case of bribery of an executive officer involving Sal, a local police chief. In that case, the DA thinks that there’s enough evidence to bring a case against Sal. Grand jurors are then called to hear the case against Sal, where the DA presents documentary evidence and testimony by witnesses who claim that Sal asked them for bribes. After deliberation, the jury determines that there is probable cause to believe that Sal is guilty of accepting bribes. The jury then issues an indictment of Sal, bringing bribery charges against him.

Federal Grand Jury Proceedings

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, serious federal felonies must be brought through indictment juries. Federal criminal charges can be brought through a grand juror process run by the federal courts.

The California Indictment Process: Understanding the Selection and Proceedings

Selection process

The selection of grand jurors in California is a crucial and random process that represents a diverse cross-section of the eligible population. In order to be considered, a person must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a U.S. Citizen
  • Be 18 years or older
  • Be a resident of the state and county for a year prior to selection
  • Possess natural faculties, ordinary intelligence, sound judgment, and fair character
  • Have sufficient knowledge of English

In addition, there are negative qualifications that must be met to be eligible for grand jury service:

  • Not currently serving as a trial juror in California
  • Not have served as a California grand jury in the past year
  • Not convicted of malfeasance in public office or any California felony
  • Not serving as an elected public officer

The number of grand jurors required varies based on the population of the county:

  • 23 in counties with a population over 4 million (only Los Angeles County)
  • 11 in counties with a population of 20,000 or less
  • 19 in all other counties



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I was searching for a law firm with some power to help me deal with a warrant in New York . After 6 days I decided to go with Spodek Law Group. It helped that This law firm is well respected by not only the top law firms in New York , but the DA , Judge as well. I...

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