"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform (them)."
The name Grand Jury is derived from the fact that it has a greater number of Jurors than a trial (petit) Jury. The history of Grand Juries traces back to the founding of common law under the English system in the 11th and 12th centuries. The Massachusetts Bay Colony impaneled the first Grand Jury in the United States in 1635 to consider such crimes as murder, robbery and wife beating. Early California Grand Juries investigated prisons, conducted audits of County books and looked into matters of community interest.
The function of Grand Juries expanded over time from the role of indictment to that of a citizens' body with governmental watchdog functions. In California today criminal and civil Grand Juries are separate. California's constitution mandates a civil Grand Jury be chosen in each County every year. The District Attorney in each County has the choice, when needed, of using the civil Grand Jury for criminal indictments or convening a special criminal Grand Jury.