ATLANTA - Jury trials are about to resume in Georgia for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic took hold back in March.
Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton announced Wednesday he will sign an order Oct. 10 lifting the suspension of jury trials across the state.
Melton issued an order last month authorizing the resumption of grand jury proceedings at the discretion of the chief judge of each superior court after consulting with the district attorney.
Similarly, the new order gives the chief judge of each trial court the discretion “to resume jury trials, if that can be done safely and in accordance with a final jury trial plan.”
For the last five months, a statewide task force made up of judges and lawyers appointed by Melton has been developing guidelines for the safe reopening of in-person court proceedings.
Topics taken up in the guidelines include the use of masks, the reconfiguring of courtrooms and chairs, installation of plexiglass barriers, and the use of markers to ensure social distancing. Also covered are plans for guaranteeing public access to court proceedings, including setting up areas where the public can watch remotely from within the courthouse.
“From the beginning of this emergency – and even earlier – we have been preparing for this day,” Melton said. “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.”
Melton’s order points out that due to the time required to summon potential jurors for service, grand jury hearings and jury trials will not actually start until a month or longer after the process for resuming them begins.
Also, due to substantial backlogs of unindicted and untried cases, as well as public health precautions, proceedings will not occur at the speed they occurred before the pandemic.
“The right to a trial by a jury of our fellow citizens, in both civil and criminal cases, is fundamental to the American justice system,” Melton said.
“To delay that process has made a difficult time more difficult for everybody involved in our justice system – litigants, victims, witnesses, lawyers, judges, and jurors. We must move forward, and I am confident that due to the hard work of so many judges, lawyers, and support staff, we are ready to do so.”