COVID-19 has severely disrupted the criminal law process. As cases resume in-person, will you be impacted?
For a while in Georgia, criminal cases were put on hold. The courts closed down, and any necessary actions were undertaken online - a process that was critiqued. But when the backlog of cases started building up, and when civil rights activists and lawyers began to raise questions about due process and defendants’ rights to a speedy trial, a continued delay seemed impossible. Now, even though the pandemic rages on, Chief Justice Harold Melton of the Supreme Court of Georgia has lifted the seven-month suspension of jury trials in the state. If you are a defendant in a criminal case awaiting trial, here is what you should know about how your case might be impacted by the decision to allow jury trials to resume.
Why is it So Important That Jury Trials Resume?
Most people agree that it is important that jury trials resume. Not only are defendants who are awaiting trial experiencing unreasonable delays--something that may constitute a breach of their Constitutional rights--but lawyers agree that in-person trials are critical for a sound process. In-person, unlike online using applications such as Zoom, jurors and attorneys both need to be able to see body language, emotions, etc. That being said, there is also concern about not being to see jurors’ faces unencumbered by masks during an in-person trial.
Will It Be Safe?
Of course, the biggest question on everyone’s mind is whether or not resuming in-person jury trials will actually be safe (and feasible). There are concerns about whether or not jurors will want to comply with an order to turn up for a trial, as they may be fearful about contracting the disease. Additionally, it is important that there is a fair cross-section of jurors, a need that is complicated by the fact that the virus has had the biggest impact on low-income communities, communities of color, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions. Before anyone is brought back in-person, safety precautions will need to be implemented.
What Happens if a Juror Gets COVID-19?
Criminal cases are serious, and the outcome of a criminal trial will certainly have a lasting impact on a defendant’s life. One concern that has been brought up is in regards to what will happen if, mid-trial, a juror tests positive for COVID-19. Would the trial cease?
Some, at least, say that it is better to have juror alternates lined up ready to step in if such a circumstance were to occur. What will actually happen in practice, though, is difficult to predict.
Talk to a Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If you are awaiting trial for criminal charges and you do not have a criminal defense lawyer, do not hesitate to consult with one. At the law offices of Ghanayem & Rayasam, our Georgia criminal defense attorneys can help you to understand your rights and your options, will build your defense and work hard to improve the outcome of your case, and will make sure you understand how returning to in-person trials in the midst of a pandemic may impact you. For a consultation, please call our Georgia lawyers today.