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Georgia chief justice says jury trials can resume
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton - photo by Associated Press

ATLANTA — Georgia's top judge has cleared the way for jury trials in the state to resume immediately as long as adequate precautions against the spread of the coronavirus are in place.

An order signed Tuesday by Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton extends the statewide judicial emergency resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. But it allows courts to call new jurors and hold jury trials "if that can be done safely and in accordance with a final jury trial plan developed in collaboration with the local committee and incorporated into the court's written operating guidelines for in-person proceedings."

Melton suspended jury trials when he first declared a statewide judicial emergency nearly a year ago, on March 14, 2020. He lifted that suspension in October but reinstated it Dec. 23 because of a surge in coronavirus cases.

In line with guidance previously given for grand jury proceedings, Melton said in his latest order that any judge who wants to resume jury trials must give adequate notice to the clerk of court or court administrator so that potential jurors can be informed in advance about what the court will do to ensure their safety.

According to a news release from the high court, the safety protocols put in place for protection against the spread of COVID-19 include: pre-screening for health risks, temperature checks, masks, plexiglass barriers, touch-free technology, surface cleaning and rearranging courtrooms and jury spaces to ensure social distancing.

The chief justice's order continues to urge courts to use technology to hold remote proceedings when possible.

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