As the State of Georgia continues to implement plans to fight COVID-19 while returning the state to some semblance of normalcy, Georgia courts are likewise in overdrive thinking up ways to protect citizens yet keep courts going. As recently pointed out by a council of judges working the issue, there is a difference between someone choosing to venture into a public place and compelling someone to come to an open and public space. Of course, courts do the latter; they compel citizens, whether through jury summons, subpoenas, or appearance bonds to come to court- an open, public, and very close quartered affair.
COVID-19 Judicial Emergency in Georgia
Right now, Georgia is in a state of “judicial emergency.” What does that mean, exactly? In short, courts are conducting business on essential matters. In the criminal sphere, this would include bond hearings, probation and plea hearings that may free someone from custody and other matters judges deem essential. You can safely assume that if the welfare of the public is involved, say in an emergency motion to revoke a bond of someone who has committed a dangerous act while out on bond, this, too, would be deemed essential.
COVID Court Hearings and Trials
Currently, the judicial emergency is in effect until June 12, 2020. Judges will have more leeway in setting protocols for hearings to utilize technology; Zoom, Microsoft Teams and the like to run courts’ matters. However, no jury trials will be allowed to proceed, at a minimum, until after the judicial emergency expires in mid-June. Word has it that- realistically- jury trials might not resume well past this mid-June end date. Again, the safety reasoning is apparent; jury trials require large groups- sometimes a few hundred people- to gather into a cramped jury assembly room and wait all day to potentially be called into an even more confined courtroom space. Of course, if seated for a jury trial, a juror could required to be crammed into an even smaller jury box for days, surely exposing them to whatever their fellow jurors may be carrying.
From our viewpoint, both defense attorneys and prosecutors have been reluctant to schedule hearings through the use of online communication platforms if the hearing will involve a number of witnesses, or even only a witness or two, especially if credibility of the testifying party is anticipated to be at issue (which is almost always the case). It is an entirely different experience to have participants in an open courtroom, subject to all the rigors of court, versus on a computer or tablet screen, talking from the location of their choosing.
COVID Jail Policies
Despite COVID-19, jails are allowing attorneys to have access to their clients, as the Constitution (still) requires. This means our firm has been seeing our clients at the jail as needed, as well as attending their first appearance, bond hearings, and other essential matters. If you need someone to see your family member in jail to speak to them about their defense and how our firm can help, simply give us a call- we will be happy to discuss your options with you and make arrangements to interview them.
Why Zeliff | Watson
At Zeliff | Watson, our attorneys have over 35 years of combined experience in criminal defense litigation. Both Peter and Evan have been named Super Lawyers for the past 2 years and have represented hundreds of individuals in Forsyth and Atlanta area courtrooms. Both of our attorneys are adamant in putting clients first and ensuring that your best defense is the defense that we bring to court. Give us a call today at: (770) 676-1340, or use our contact form to reach out to us 24/7 to discuss your situation.