Allegations that the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office was exchanging concealed gun permits for campaign donations have hit the next stage with grand jury proceedings, NBC Bay Area has learned.
Grand jury proceedings are held in secret, but NBC Bay Area confirmed the assistant presiding judge in Santa Clara County empaneled a criminal grand jury at the beginning of July, and sources say the sheriff’s case began Monday.
The grand jury met in person with strict COVID protocol Thursday at the old courthouse in San Jose, where prosecutors presented witnesses and evidence concerning quid pro quo allegations against the county sheriff and her political campaign.
“One thing unique about grand jury proceedings, is that grand juries themselves are allowed to ask questions of witnesses and they’re allowed to review evidence,” said Criminal Defense Attorney Jaime Leanos.
The case is focusing on whether the sheriff’s office was granting more concealed weapons permits to those who contributed to Sheriff Laurie Smith’s re-election campaign than to people who didn’t.
It's unclear if the sheriff herself is part of the probe or just some of her top brass and members of her advisory board.
In the end, 12 of the 19 grand jurors have to agree for anyone to be charged.
“All the evidence that comes in is controlled by the prosecutor, and they bring evidence to present to the grand jury,” said Leanos, adding that there was no defense attorney in the courtroom and no judge. So there’s no way to cross examine a witness.
“They kinda get one side of the story,” he said. “Usually means there’ll be an indictment in criminal grand jury investigations.”
The sheriff is currently serving a record sixth term.
NBC Bay Area reached out to her office for a comment and were told to, “Please contact either County Counsel or the District Attorney’s Office for information regarding your request.”