Recently, there was news coverage about the initiation of a "special grand jury" in Fulton County. These are fairly rare in the Georgia state court level, so I thought it might be worthwhile to explore how these work and what they can do.
Under the Georgia statutes, this entity is actually designated as a special purpose grand jury.
Who Can Ask For a Special Purpose Grand Jury?
There are a limited number of officials who can request a special purpose grand jury. That list includes the chief judge of the superior court of the county, the district attorney of the county, or any public official of the county or a municipality lying wholly or partially within the county.
What Purposes Can a Special Grand Jury Pursue?
The petition for a special purpose grand jury can request that the jury investigate an alleged violation of the laws of Georgia or any other matter subject to investigation by grand juries.
Who Decides Whether a Special Grand Jury Will Be Impaneled?
The petition can be made to the chief judge of the county or can be instituted upon the chief judge's own motion. If a petition is received, the chief judge, then the chief judge refers the petition to all of the superior court judges for that county where it is subject to a majority vote. If the motion is approved, then a special grand jury is impaneled by the method described in OCGA 15-12-62.1.
What Can the Special Purpose Grand Jury Do?
The special grand jury can investigate. In this regard, they can compel evidence and subpoena witnesses, inspect records, document, correspondence and books of any department, agency, board, bureau, commission, institution, or authority of the state or any of its political subdivisions (counties and cities). They can also require the production of such documents from any person, firm or corporation which relate, directly or indirectly, to the subject of the investigation.
How is the Special Grand Jury Overseen?
The chief superior court judge appoints one of the superior court judges to oversee and assist the jury in carrying out its investigations and duties. That judge will instruct the jury as to its powers and duties and will require periodic reports of its progress and a final report. That judge can decide that the grand jury's investigation has been completed and can recommend termination to the chief judge, who is empowered to terminate the jury upon majority vote of the superior court judges for the county.