COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - The coronavirus pandemic caused delays for jury trials in Georgia.
Now, a new order from the State Supreme Court aims to cut down on a backlog of cases across the Peach State.
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton’s last judicial emergency extension authorizes courts to resume jury trials if doing so can be done safely and in compliance with public health guidelines and local conditions.
This time around, there’s one key difference. Friday, Melton extended for another month the statewide judicial emergency he first declared more than a year ago on March 14, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order, which will be in effect until May 8, is nearly identical to the previous order he signed last month.
One key difference is this order gives notice that the statutory deadlines for when detained criminal defendants must have their cases heard by a grand jury are expected to be reinstated May 14, 2021.
“So, all these deadlines have basically been tolled under the chief justices orders, prior 12 orders. So, the 13th one sets a deadline to one, the tolling stops, so all of this stuff will have to be moving like normal after May 14th,” explained District Attorney Mark Jones.
“So, this is kind of a good thing,” said defense attorney Ralston Jarrett. “We’re kind of getting some of those cases moving. I guess the chief justice thought it was fit, so we respect it and we’ll work hard with the state and the judges and kind of get back to the new normal.”
“To my understanding, it’s an effort from the Supreme Court to now give district attorneys kind of a push from the state to now get the cases indicted,” said attorney Stacey Jackson.
Reimposing these deadlines will help clear out the backlog of unindicted criminal cases that has been growing throughout the year and protect defendants’ rights to have their cases move forward.
The resumption of grand jury proceedings was authorized last September in the monthly extension order the chief Justice signed.
“Courts around our state have been working hard to resolve cases with the speed and efficiency we did before the pandemic,” Melton said. “Reinstating these deadlines will be another step toward getting us back to more robust court operations.”