An order last month allowed grand jury proceedings in Georgia courts to resume and now jury trials can start again after a months-long shutdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief Justice Harold D. Melton of the Supreme Court of Georgia announced Wednesday that he will sign the order on Saturday, Oct. 10 to lift the suspension on jury trials. The blanket suspension of jury trials was enacted in a March 14 order.
"From the beginning of this emergency – and even earlier – we have been preparing for this day," Melton said in the announcement. "We have put into place rigorous safety protocols for grand jury proceedings and jury trials because we understand that the public must have confidence to come and serve on juries. It is paramount to all our judges that our citizens realize that their safety has been thoroughly considered."
The order gives the chief judge of each trial court the discretion to resume jury trials. Each judge must submit a detailed plan with specific health and safety guidelines prior to the resumption of such trials.
For the last five months, a statewide Judicial COVID-19 Task Force – made up of judges and lawyers appointed in May by Chief Justice Melton – has been working on developing guidelines for the safe reopening of in-person proceedings. The Guidance for Resuming Jury Trials provides a set of detailed guidelines that address a number of topics, including the use of masks; the reconfiguring of courtrooms and chairs, installation of plexiglass barriers, and use of markers to ensure social distancing; the regular replacement of air filters; and plans for guaranteeing public access to court proceedings, including setting up areas where the public can watch remotely from within the courthouse.
The order points out that resuming jury trials won't happen immediately, since each court will need to summon potential jurors. Additionally, the order notes there are substantial backlogs of cases that will slow the process; the additional health protocols will also hamper the speed of the trial process.