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The activities of California grand juries have always been shrouded in mystery. Indictment proceedings behind closed doors and the power to subpoena citizens and documents in the course of an investigation seem to paint a picture of power.
The grand jury is one of the oldest civil institutions in America. Its roots can be traced as far back as the Norman conquest of England in 1066. The origin of our current system probably occurred during the reign of Henry II (1154-1189) when 12 men in each village were assembled to bring charges against those suspected of crimes.
In Nevada County citizens volunteer to serve as members of the grand jury. From this pool of volunteers, 19 are selected by the Superior Court to make up a grand jury and act as an arm of the court. Jurors serve for a period of one year. The California Penal Code, Sections 888 to 940, governs jurors.
The prime objective of the Nevada County Civil Grand Jury is to help improve the overall functioning of governmental entities within the county. To accomplish this, grand jurors review the day-to-day operational aspects of a program, organization, or entity and report on their findings. The three main aspects covered in investigations are:
- Efficiency (are they doing the right things?)
- Effectiveness (are they getting results?)
- Economy (are they doing it in a cost-effective manner?)
Another objective of the grand jury is to examine specific complaints of private citizens.
What kinds of people serve as grand jurors? He/she should be able to take an unbiased look at the way government works and, when necessary, offer solutions or suggest more efficient management of operations. He/she also needs to possess strong personal initiative and high energy to face the workload. Above all, a good juror is curious about how his/her government works and how it can be improved. Grand jurors come from all lifestyles. Grand jurors operate under a strict code of behavior and confidentiality. While grand jurors function lawfully as a body, a grand juror acting alone has no power or authority.