Chief justice allows jury trials to resume during pandemic

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Trials have been suspended since March

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton on Wednesday said he will soon sign an order allowing for the resumption of jury trials during the coronavirus pandemic.

The suspension of jury trials, in place since Melton signed his first judicial emergency order on March 14, “is ended effective immediately,” said his new order, to be signed Saturday.

A month ago, the chief justice allowed for the resumption of grand juries. He also said this month’s order would allow for jury trials to start back up again because backlogs of important cases are piling up.

During a Judicial Council of Georgia meeting on Tuesday, a court official noted that most judicial circuits plan to reconvene grand juries in mid-October or early November, but some will wait until 2021.

As for jury trials, chief judges across the state had already been tasked with convening local committees to develop detailed plans to make sure public health and safety guidelines are followed. Such plans must be in place before jury trials can resume in any jurisdiction

“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.”

Due to the time it takes to summon potential jurors for service, jury trials are not expected to resume until a month or longer after the process begins, the Supreme Court said.

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