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The grand jury may conduct hearings to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring an indictment charging a person with a public offense; however, the district attorney usually calls for impanelment of separate juries drawn from the petit (regular trial) jury pool to bring criminal indictments. The grand jury has the power of subpoena.

The origin of the grand jury has been traced to the time of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Generally, historians agree that the assize (inquest) of Clarendon in 1164 was the genesis of our present grand jury system.

In the United States, the Massachusetts Bay Colony impaneled the first grand jury in 1635 to consider cases of murder, robbery and wife beating. By the end of the colonial period the grand jury had become an indispensable adjunct of government. Grand juries proposed new laws, protested against abuses in government, and wielded tremendous authority in their power to determine who should and should not face trial.

The grand jury in California is unique in that its duties include investigation of county government as provided by statutes passed in 1880. Only a few other states require grand jury investigation beyond alleged misconduct of public officials. The earliest reference to the existence of a grand jury in California is dated 1849.

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