The primary function of the Grand Jury, and most important reason for its existence, is the examination of county and city government, including special districts. The Grand Jury seeks to assure that there is honest, efficient government in the best interest of the citizens. The Grand Jury responds to citizens' complaints, investigates alleged criminal conduct of elected and appointed officials, and has power to file an accusation for removal from office. In addition, the Grand Jury investigates the County's finances, facilities, and programs.
The Grand Jury is sworn to secrecy and all citizens' concerns and complaints are treated in strict confidence. The Grand Jury chooses which complaints merit in-depth investigation and cannot investigate disputes between private citizens or matters that are in litigation. The Amador County Grand Jury is a civil grand jury and is not charged with the responsibility for criminal indictments except in the case of elected or appointed county officials.
The Grand Jury system dates back to 12th century England during the reign of Henry II. Twelve "good and lawful men" were assembled in each village to investigate those suspected of crimes. Initially, the Grand Jury both accused and tried suspects but the functions were later separated. The purpose of establishing the Grand Jury was to prevent oppressive prosecution by the English crown by means of a citizen's hearing prior to actual prosecution.
In the early centuries of the jury system, the jurors passed judgment on the basis of what they themselves knew about a defendant and the circumstances of the case. It was believed that one's neighbors and associates were the most competent to render a fair verdict. By the end of the 17th century the principle that jurors must reach a verdict solely on the basis of evidence was established, and that practice continues today. California Supreme Court decisions have curtailed the historical criminal indictment function of the Grand Jury, however, it still serves as an inquisitorial and investigative body functioning as a "watchdog" over county government.