Ga. Suspends Jury Trials Until At Least February

By Clark Mindock
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Law360 (December 23, 2020, 3:02 PM EST) -- The Supreme Court of Georgia on Wednesday suspended in-person jury trials until "at least February," a necessary change of course due to the dangerous rate of coronavirus spread in the state, the court's chief justice said.

Under the order, no in-person trials that aren't already underway can go forward, including in-person procedures for juror selection. Jury trials that have already begun may proceed to their conclusions, pending individual judge discretion.

"The recent surge in this deadly virus has required us to slow down the effort to resume jury trials and to rethink other in-person proceedings in Georgia," said Chief Justice Harold D. Melton in a statement. "We are hopeful that with the advent of vaccines and their widespread availability, the end of the virus is in sight and sometime in the coming months, we will be able to return to a robust schedule of jury trials and all court functions. But now is not the time for full-blown operations."

In mid-October, Justice Melton lifted a previous ban on jury trials. At the time, he encouraged the continued use of remote technology but said in-person proceedings could resume under county-specific safety plans prepared by state court judges.

The new order modifies a Dec. 9 extension of statewide judicial emergency orders Justice Melton signed in March when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to tear through the country. That extension marked the ninth renewal of the order under a state law allowing courts to suspend in-jury trials for 30-day periods, pending renewal.

On Wednesday, Justice Melton again urged Georgia courts to take advantage of technology and remote hearings where applicable. He said he had reached his decision to suspend in-person jury trials after consultation with the judicial council of Georgia and other judicial partners.

The order arrives a day after Georgia's Cobb County announced a suspension of in-person jury trials and limited all in-person proceedings amid local spread of the coronavirus "at unprecedented levels."

After the in-person jury trial suspension was lifted in October, Georgia saw record new cases and deaths in early November, a trend consistent with case numbers across the country. The state had a record-high 45,080 new cases the week of Dec.13-19 and is on track to beat that record this week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There have been 303 deaths from the virus in Georgia the past week, compared to the current record of 667 in the first week of November.

--Additional reporting by Rosie Manins and Clarice Silber. Editing by Ellen Johnson.

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