The Civil Grand Jury is a judicial body composed of 19 citizens. It is impaneled to act as an "arm of the court," as authorized by the State Constitution, to be a voice of the people and conscience of the community.
The present Grand Jury system evolved from earlier ecclesiastical courts beginning in 1164 when Henry II of England impaneled the first 16-man Grand Jury to remove criminal indictments from the hands of the church. In 1635 the first American Grand Jury was impaneled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and by 1638 Grand Juries were present in all the colonies. These early Grand Juries began the practice of returning "presentments," which were primarily against public officials and different from criminal indictments.
Forty-two states have some form of Grand Jury. California is still one of the states that allows prosecution to be initiated by either a Criminal Grand Jury indictment or judicial preliminary hearing. California impanels County Civil Grand Juries every year to conduct civil investigations of county and city government and to hear evidence to make recommendations or to decide whether to return indictments. In San Mateo County, if indictments need to be made, a separate criminal grand jury is impaneled.
The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is an independent investigative body created by the California State Constitution. Composed of nineteen citizens, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury serves as a "watchdog for citizens of the county."
A Civil Grand Jury is charged with a grave responsibility. The Civil Grand Jury serves as an ombudsperson for the citizens of San Mateo County. The jury may receive and investigate complaints by individuals regarding the actions or performances of county or public officials. The attention of the entire county is centered upon an active Civil Grand Jury, and its every act is a matter of public interest. Malevolent and unfaithful public servants are uneasy, while honest citizens and the conscientious public servants are reassured. Therefore, Grand Jury service calls for diligence, impartiality, courage and responsibility.
Empowered by the state judicial system, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury submits meaningful solutions to a wide range of problems. The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is a volunteer, fact finding body with the potential to recommend constructive changes.
Grand Jury work is demanding. Rewards for Grand Jury service come mostly from increased knowledge of local government, the judicial system, and the satisfaction of making a worthwhile contribution to the improvement of San Mateo County government operations.