C.A. 3rd;
C083126

The Third Appellate District granted a petition for writ of mandate. The court held that the deputy district attorney’s unauthorized excusal of a juror for hardship substantially impaired the grand jury’s independence and impartiality, warranting dismissal of the resulting indictment.

Darren Williams was charged by complaint with a series of robberies. Proceedings before a grand jury began with the deputy district attorney introducing himself to the jurors. Next, he excused one of the jurors from service, explaining that he had been informed that Juror Number 15 had just learned she would not get paid for the full five days of her service, which would cause her an economic hardship: “So I’m going to release her from her service at this time.” The proceedings continued with 18 jurors, who returned an indictment charging Williams with multiple felonies.

Williams moved to dismiss the indictment based on the deputy district attorney’s unauthorized excusal of Juror No. 15. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. Williams filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging that ruling.

The court of appeal granted Williams’ writ petition, holding that the deputy district attorney’s conduct substantially impaired the independence and impartiality of the grand jury. In excusing a juror for hardship, the deputy district attorney exercised authority he did not have. In so doing, he allowed the remaining jurors to mistakenly believe he had legal authority to approve a hardship request. He thereby expanded his power over the grand jury proceedings and the grand jurors themselves. Instead of merely providing information or advice, as he was authorized to do, he asserted actual control over the jurors. His improper use of judicial authority went to the very structure the provided by the Legislature to keep these constitutional fixtures necessarily independent. The improper excusal of Juror No. 15 and corresponding reduction of the required number of jurors below the requisite 19 substantially impaired the jury’s independence and impartiality, and may have contributed to its determination that probable cause existed to accuse Williams of the charged crimes. Williams’ motion to dismiss should have been granted.