Chipotle is Subpoenaed in Criminal Inquiry Over Norovirus Outbreak

A Chipotle restaurant chain in California has been served with a grand jury subpoena as part of a criminal investigation of a norovirus outbreak. The subpoena was granted by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California in an inquiry the office is conducting with the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations. It seeks a broad range of documents which has not been specified to the public.

Back in August 2015, two hundred and seven people, including 18 Chipotle employees, reported falling ill after eating at one of Chipotle’s restaurants in Simi Valley, California. Restaurants in that area typically contact the Ventura County Environmental Health Division as soon as they become aware of food-borne illnesses, but in this case Chipotle did not notify the agency until the restaurant had been closed down, cleaned, and re-opened.  While it does not appear that the California outbreak spread beyond one restaurant, it is unusual for federal enforcement to occur for localized outbreaks.

In recent months, the burrito chain has suffered a series of food-related illnesses amongst customers and employees. Chipotle voluntarily closed 43 restaurants in Washington State and Oregon due to an E. coli outbreak, and another norovirus outbreak occurred in Boston, Massachusetts in December.

What is a Grand Jury?

Grand juries differ from trial juries in several ways. The purpose of a grand jury is to weigh the evidence to decide whether or not to bring criminal charges against someone. Trial juries on the other hand, decide on one’s guilt during a trial after criminal charges have already been brought.  Regular court trial juries are usually comprised of six or 12 people, but in the federal system, a grand jury can be comprised of 16 to 23 people. Grand juries also sit for longer – up for 36 months. However they only have to meet a few days a month.

How are Subpoenas Issued?

Federal grand juries are allowed to use the court’s power to subpoena for evidence, such as in the case of Chipotle. A prosecutor will go to the federal court clerk’s office to obtain a blank subpoena, fill it out, and specify what the defendant must do (ie. testify or produce documents).  The prosecutor then has someone serve the filled subpoena on the defendant person or corporation.

Once the defendant receives the subpoena, s/he is legally obligated to respond. S/he may comply with it, convince the court that s/he does not have to comply with it, or refuse to comply, which will lead to him or her being held in contempt of the court.

San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer

At the Law Offices of David M. Boertje, we understand that the criminal justice system is a confusing process burdened with much procedure. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is important to hire an experienced attorney who will guide you through the process with ease. The Law Offices of David M. Boertje handles all felony and misdemeanor cases, including juvenile cases. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, contact us today.