Chief Justice Harold D. Melton Issues Order to Resume Jury Trials in Georgia
"A Trial by a Jury of One's Peers is Fundamental to the American Justice System." - Chief Justice Harold D. Melton
According to an announcement published on gasupreme.us, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, Harold D. Melton, issued an order that immediately removed the suspension of jury trials in Georgia. The Chief Justice's order, which was the twelfth order the Chief Justice has signed concerning Georgia's Statewide Judicial Emergency.
The Statewide Judicial Emergency halted jury trials due to the coronavirus pandemic. The order dated March 9, 2021 permits the trial courts in Georgia to resume jury trials as long as the jury trial can be conducted in a way that is safe and in accordance with the final jury trial plan. Georgia's "final jury trial plan" includes new guidelines for conducting in-person proceedings and jury trials in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The new in-person jury trial and court proceeding guidelines have been combined with the court's existing "in-person" operating guidelines.
On March 14, 2020, the Chief Justice first declared the Statewide Judicial Emergency, which permitted Georgia courts to stay open, but suspended jury trial due to the number of people needed to assemble at courthouses. Back in October of 2020, Chief Justice Melton lifted the initial suspension of all Georgia jury trials. However, the number of new coronavirus cases began to spike into the second wave of infections, and the Chief Justice suspended prohibited jury trials again in a new order on December 23, 2020.
According to Chief Justice Melton, the deadly surge in new coronavirus cases has subsided. Therefore, the Chief Justice lifted the prohibition of jury trials and reopened trial courts in Georgia.
Chief Justice Melton stated in a recent Public Service Announcement, "A trial by a jury of one's peers is fundamental to the American justice system, and I'm asking for your help."
In the Public Service Announcement, the Chief Justice is asking Georgia's citizens to help preserve this essential legal right by participating in the jury trial process. Chief Justice Melton also reassured the public by affirming that all Georgia courts have the most "rigorous safety protocols" in place. The safety protocols include the pre-screening of all parties, mask usage, temperature checks, plexiglass barriers, constant surface disinfection, touch-free evidence technology, and all courtrooms and jury spaces have been reconfigured to ensure social distancing.
The order also urges all Georgia courts to utilize technology to administer remote judicial proceedings as a safer option to in-person court proceedings "where practicable and lawful." The March 9, 2021 order also extended the Statewide Judicial Emergency for another 30 days, as Georgia state law authorizes and is in effect until April 8, 2021.
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