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Georgia poised to lift ban on jury trials

Scales of justice with mask
Scales of justice with mask(WRDW)
Published: Oct. 8, 2020 at 9:16 AM EDT
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ATLANTA (WRDW/WAGT) - Jury trials, which have been suspended since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, are set to resume throughout Georgia.

State Chief Justice Harold Melton will sign an order Saturday allowing the change.

Melton declared a statewide judicial emergency on March 14. This is the seventh time he has extended the emergency for a 30-day period, as state law allows.

This extension will differ from others by stating: “The blanket suspension of jury trials that has been in place since the March 14 Order is ended effective immediately.”

An order last month authorized the resumption of grand jury proceedings.

For the past five months, a statewide task force of judges and lawyers has been working on developing guidelines for the safe resumption of in-person court proceedings.

The guidelines under the new order address many topics, including:

  • The use of masks.
  • Reconfiguring courtrooms and chairs.
  • Installing plexiglass barriers.
  • Using markers to ensure social distancing.
  • Regular replacement of air filters.
  • 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 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 backlogs and health precautions, proceedings will not occur at the speed they occurred before the pandemic. As a result, statutory deadlines based on indictments and jury trials will remain suspended, the order says.

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