Grand juries and trials across Georgia may soon be back in session. Since March, trials have been suspended and only grand jury sessions that could be conducted remotely have taken place – thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Justice Harold D. Melton of the Supreme Court of Georgia’s September 10 order gives the chief judge of each county’s superior court the option to resume grand jury sessions after collaborating with the local district attorney. In addition, the order instructs each of the chief judges to convene a local committee made up of judicial system participants to develop detailed guidelines for safely resuming jury trials. Each committee will base its local directive on the safe jury trial guidelines developed by the Judicial COVID-19 Task Force, a group of judges and lawyers appointed by Chief Justice Melton in May to help courts prepare to restore grand jury proceedings and jury trials.
In his September 10 order, Chief Justice Melton stated that the current suspension of grand jury proceedings could not stand even if the pandemic continues. He specifically pointed to the backlog of pending indictments and trials as the reason for resuming in-person grand jury sessions and, ultimately, trials as well.
A second order from Chief Justice Melton, which is expected to be issued on or about October 10, will allow for jury trials to resume. The second order’s timing allows for local counties to summon the pools of trial juror candidates that will be needed.
Chief Justice Melton cautioned that attorneys and the public should not expect the state’s legal proceedings to resume at the scale or with the velocity of pre-pandemic times. The implementation of COVID-19 safety guidelines will likely slow the process, he pointed out. “While our justice system must resume moving cases to indictment and trial as rapidly as can be done safely, statutory deadlines based on indictments and jury trials will remain suspended and tolled,” he said.