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The Madera County Grand Jury & The History of the Grand Juries of California's Counties

Juries first were created under the law of Etherel II, who reigned during the Anglo-Saxon period of A.D. 978-1016. By A.D. 1368, Juries had evolved to include the Grand Jury, or Grand Inquest, formed by Edward III.

Most of us have heard the term, "Grand Jury', but most of us have little knowledge of what a grand jury actually does.

Today's Grand Jury's in America were first started in 1635, and later became a full legal body, with the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states, "No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, of in the Militia, when in actual service time of War or public danger..."

The Grand Jury system has been in existence in California since 1879, when the State Constitution was adopted. Every county in California has at least one Grand Jury, and in some cases, the larger counties have more than one. Santa Clara County, for instance, has one Grand Jury that deals with civil issues, and another Grand Jury for criminal issues. There are also times that Grand Juries may handle Coroner Inquests, though these are rare occasions.

Madera County has one Grand Jury, which normally handles all investigations. The District Attorney may pull a Special Grand Jury from the petit jury pool, for a criminal issue, and allow the regular Grand Jury time to work on other issues. In criminal cases, the Grand Jury is presented with evidence of a crime and decides if there is enough evidence to permit a case to be brought against a defendant. The Grand Jury also has the power to accuse public official of improper actions in the performance of official duties. In its civil jurisdiction, the Grand Jury is the watchdog of local government.

Most Grand Jury members are drawn from the regular petit jury pool. Letters are sent out to a random group from the jury pool, and those whom respond with interest then go through an interview process. Nineteen people and several alternates are selected each year, and are then impaneled in January to serve for one year. The nineteen members that are selected at random from those who finish the interview process commit themselves to do this work and find that they spend a great deal of time attending meetings, conducting investigations, and writing reports on those investigations. Most investigations are routine and do not result in recommendations.

Some of the Grand Jury investigations are triggered by public concerns. These may be brought to the Grand Jury through letters, phone calls, and personal contact with members of the Grand Jury. The concerns of these issues are then brought before the Grand Jury, or one of the Grand Jury Committees, in order to determine if an investigation should be carried out. All Grand Jury business is conducted in secret, and all information and discussions are considered highly confidential. This is done, (1) to protect the innocent accused who is exonerated from disclosure of the fact that he has been under investigation and from the expense of standing trial where there was probably no guilt; (2) to ensure the utmost freedom to the Grand Jury in its deliberations, (3) to prevent subordination of perjury or tampering with witnesses; (4) to encourage free and untrammeled disclosures by persons who have information with respect to the commission of a crime, and (5) to prevent the escape of those whose indictment may be contemplated.

If any citizen or member of the community has questions or concerns about anything that might involve the Madera County Grand Jury, please call or fax the Grand jury office at 559-662-0946. You can also write a letter to the Madera County Grand Jury, P.O. Box 534, Madera, CA 93639.

You can be assured that no one outside the Grand Jury will know about your contact.