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Name: Williams v. Superior Court (People)
Case #: C083126
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 08/20/2019

Prosecutor’s improper dismissal of a grand juror was grounds for dismissing an indictment because it substantially impaired the grand jury’s independence and impartiality. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office filed a complaint charging Williams and his co-defendants with multiple robberies and related offenses. During the grand jury proceedings, the prosecutor excused one of the jurors from service due to an economic hardship. The proceedings continued with 18 jurors, who ultimately returned an indictment. Williams moved to dismiss the indictment (Pen. Code, § 995), based on the prosecutor’s excusal of a qualified grand juror. The trial court denied the motion. Williams petitioned for writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal concluded the motion should have been granted. The California Supreme Court granted review and deferred the matter pending resolution of a related issue in Avita v. Superior Court (2018) 6 Cal.5th 486. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration in light of Avita. Held: Petition granted. The trial court holds the authority to accept or excuse a person who is found qualified to serve on a grand jury (Pen. Code, § 909). While the prosecutor may provide information or advice to the grand jury, he has no role in excusing jurors. (See Pen. Code, § 910.) In Avita the prosecutor dismissed a grand juror outside the presence of the other jurors and this was found not to have affected the independence of the grand jury. But here, the prosecutorial overreach occurred in front of the other jurors. This allowed the remaining jurors to mistakenly believe that the prosecutor had legal authority to approve a hardship request. The prosecutor asserted direct control over the composition of the grand jury, which reasonably might have had an adverse effect on the impartiality or independence of the jury.