Order will allow jury trials to resume in Georgia

Georgia’s top judge plans to sign an order Saturday that will allow jury trials to resume in the state, according to a news release.

When he declared a statewide judicial emergency in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton suspended jury trials. The order he plans to sign Saturday will extend the emergency for an additional 30 days but will lift the suspension on jury trials, Melton announced in a news release Wednesday.

The new order allows the chief judge of each trial court “to resume jury trials, if that can be done safely and in accordance with a final jury trial plan,” the new order says, according to the release.

“From the beginning of this emergency — and even earlier — we have been preparing for this day,” Melton said in the release. “We have put into place rigorous safety protocols for grand jury proceedings and jury trials because we understand that the public must have confidence to come and serve on juries. It is paramount to all our judges that our citizens realize that their safety has been thoroughly considered.”

An order Melton signed last month had instructed chief judges to put together a local committee in each county of the judicial circuit to come up with a detailed plan for the resumption of jury trials. The release says that plan must be in place for trials to resume.

Last month’s order also gave chief judges the discretion to allow grand jury proceedings to resume after consulting with the local district attorney and as long as the proceedings could be held safely and in compliance with public health guidance.