As many people who have ongoing criminal cases know, Georgia has had a statewide judicial emergency in effect since March 14, 2020. This was due to the safety concerns associated with group gatherings because of COVID-19. Over the last several months, the Georgia Supreme has been issuing additional judicial emergency orders slowly opening up the court system.
As of September 10, 2020, the Sixth Judicial Emergency Order has been issued, which extends the emergency through October 10, 2020. Most everything is the same except the impacts it has on Grand Jury proceedings and jury trials. These are some big changes that can impact you if you have a pending Georgia criminal case. A summary of these changes are outlined below.
Grand juries are the part of the criminal process that indict (formally charge) people accused of most felonies. Except in limited circumstances, grand juries have not been able to take place since March.
The order instructs the Chief Superior Court Judge in every court to consult with District Attorney to determine if they can reinitiate grand jury proceedings safely. They can initiate these proceedings immediately, but we expect them to likely begin in most counties in October at the earliest. However, all deadlines related to grand jury proceedings, such as speedy trial demands and other deadlines, still remain suspended.
Jury trials are part of what keeps the criminal justice system moving after someone has been formally charged by a prosecutors office. No new State or Superior Court jury trials have been initiated in Georgia since the beginning of the judicial emergency in March.
The order also instructs the Chief Superior Court Judge in every court to convene a local committee for each county to develop a plan for safely resuming jury trials in that county. Those plans are to be submitted to the Administrative Office of the Courts before jury trials resume in that county. However, counties are not authorized to initiate jury trials until the Supreme Court authorizes it. The earliest this is expected to take place is authorization in October and potential jury trials beginning in November.
In addition to resuming grand juries and (soon) jury trials, we’ve seen more courts moving cases in virtual, open air, and socially distanced in person proceedings. Many people who have not heard anything about their cases since March are getting court notices for upcoming hearings.
For those who have had pending criminal cases in Georgia, they have basically been at a standstill due to the lack of grand juries to indict people and the lack of jury trials to move cases that have previously been indicted forward.
As mentioned above, the District Attorney is to be consulted on how these processes will move forward, meaning they will know more about what is coming than the average person with a pending criminal case. We expect to see a lot of prosecutors ready to start indicting a lot of people and prosecuting a lot of cases.
Make sure your address is up to date with the court your case is pending in, so you don’t miss any important court notices mailed to you.
If you’ve been waiting for the criminal justice system to start picking back up before getting a lawyer, now is the time to take action. Taking action now can help make sure your defense team isn’t playing catch up with the prosecutor. Remember, the police, prosecutor, and their investigators have been building their case against you since you first had contact with the police.
Your defense team can’t start building your defense until you hire them. Whether you are getting a public defender, hiring another law firm, or hiring our team, now is the time to do it. Don’t delay any longer.
To learn how our team can help, contact us today.