Chief Justice Harold D. Melton extended for another month the Statewide Judicial Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order he signed on April 8, 2021 is the 13th he has signed that extends the emergency he first declared on March 14, 2020. Under state law, the Chief Justice is authorized to declare an emergency for 30 days at a time.
The provisions of the order below are identical to the March 9, 2021 extension order except for the following revisions:
- The blanket suspension of jury trials ended effective March 9, 2021. Jury trails for the Western Judicial Circuit, which includes Athens-Clarke County, resumed on March 29, 2021. These trials and jury selection are being held at the Classic Center in Athens-Clarke County.
- It is expected that the deadlines in OCGA §§ 17-7-50 and 17-7-50.1 relating to the details of indicting detained individuals will be reimposed as of May 14, 2021.
- The deadlines for jury trial proceedings (including statutory speedy trial demands), deadlines for grand jury proceedings, and deadlines calculated by reference to the date of a civil or criminal jury trial or grand jury proceeding shall remain suspended and tolled. This provision does not apply to deadlines calculated by reference to the date of non-jury (bench) trials. Statutes of limitation in criminal cases shall also remain tolled until further order. However, the deadlines in OCGA §§ 17-7-50 and 17-7-50.1 for presenting cases involving detained individuals to the grand jury are expected to be reimposed effective May 14, 2021.
A statewide Judicial COVID-19 Task Force – made up of judges and lawyers appointed in May by Chief Justice Melton – worked on developing guidelines for the safe reopening of in-person proceedings. The “Guidance for Resuming Jury Trials,” which is linked in the Appendix of the new order, provides a set of detailed guidelines that address many topics, including the use of masks; the reconfiguring of courtrooms and chairs, installation of plexiglass barriers, and use of markers to ensure social distancing; the regular replacement of air filters; and plans for guaranteeing public access to court proceedings, including setting up areas where the public can watch remotely from within the courthouse.