Melton’s statewide judicial emergency order, the 12th he has issued since the coronavirus pandemic struck Georgia last March, will allow jury trials to resume immediately if it can be done safely and according to a plan developed with input from local judicial officials.
The state’s courts have remained open since Melton issued his initial order a year ago, but jury trials were suspended due to the number of people required to be present at courthouses.
Melton first lifted the suspension of jury trials last October but prohibited them again in December following a spike in COVID-19 cases. Tuesday’s order noted that cases of the virus once again have subsided.
Jury trials are “fundamental to the American justice system,” Melton declared in a public service announcement due to air soon in which he appeals directly to Georgia citizens.
“You and every citizen are critical to this process because we cannot conduct a trial by jury without jurors, without you,” he said. “We have put into place the most rigorous safety protocols available.”
Safety precautions that will accompany jury trials include temperature checks, masks, plexiglas barriers, touch-free evidence technology, constant surface cleaning and the reconfiguration of courtrooms and jury spaces to ensure social distancing.
As with previous judicial emergency orders, Melton urged all courts to use technology to conduct remote judicial proceedings where practicable and lawful as a safer alternative to in-person proceedings.
The new order is set to expire April 8.
Melton is expected to address the judicial system’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in detail when he delivers his final State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the General Assembly March 16. The chief justice announced last month he is leaving the court on July 1.