Dade County court proceedings are slowly coming back to a semblance of normalcy under an order issued by Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton.
The order authorizes counties to decide whether to allow grand jury proceedings to resume immediately. However, jury trials are still suspended. All of Georgia’s court proceedings shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statewide judicial emergency order Melton first signed back in mid-March was a move to slow the spread of COVID-19. That initial order has been extended until Oct. 10.
While jury trials remain on hold, Melton indicated that he intends to order trials to resume when he issues the next 30-day extension next month.
“As explained in the last extension order, this broad prohibition cannot continue, even if the pandemic continues,” Melton said. “The criminal justice system, in particular, must have some capacity to resolve cases by indictment and trial.”
To lay the groundwork for a resumption of jury trials, Melton’s order calls for the chief judge of each superior court to assemble a local committee for each in his or her circuit. The committee, made up of judicial system participants, will develop detailed guidelines for safely resuming jury trials, based on guidelines developed by a statewide task force Melton created in May.
Melton cautioned that neither grand jury proceedings nor jury trials are expected to start until a month or longer after they are authorized because of the time it takes to summon potential jurors.
“It should also be recognized that there are substantial backlogs of unindicted cases, and due to ongoing public health precautions, those proceedings will not occur at the scale or with the speed they occurred before the pandemic,” Melton said.
Melton praised courts across the state for expanding their use of remote proceedings since March.
“Those proceedings that can be done remotely should be done remotely,” Melton said. “But those that cannot – based on law or practicality – must nevertheless resume, but under strict adherence to public safety guidelines.”