As jury trials set to resume in November, we get a peek at CSRA plans

Published: Oct. 9, 2020 at 4:55 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Right next door to the Bell Auditorium, the James Brown Arena is also setting up for social distancing, but it’s not for voting. Instead, the JBA is being turned into a makeshift jury selection center.

On Monday, jury trials in Georgia can start back up for the first time since March.

The court administrator says there will be different setups for each judge. Each will be set up for social distancing and each individual case.

For seven months, several thousand cases have been stuck in limbo.

“It’s made things a lot slower,” District Attorney Natalie Paine said. “But, it’s also allowed us to have a lot more time to prepare for the trials that we will have.”

Paine says the grand jury will start back at the end of this month. Jury trials will follow with judges seeing as many cases as they safely can. But what decides which cases come first?

“Anything from how old the case is, how long the person’s been in jail, and the severity of the case,” Paine said.

According to the court administrator, there’s 700+ unindicted cases and 750+ people incarcerated waiting on rulings.

Jury selection will take place at James Brown Arena for social distancing. Court administrator Nolan Martin says 99 percent of trials will be in normal courtrooms.

“In multi-litigant cases or in cases where we have multi-defendants in criminal cases, we may have to try cases at the JBA,” Martin said.

But some are concerned about security if that does take place. The preference is to do every trial at the judicial center with several different set-ups for each judge or type of case.

“One of them would be to put the jurors in the gallery, and then have the witness in the jury box,” Martin said.

The judge sits in their normal spot and the attorney tables would be turned. There’s still concerns over what’s to come.

“They’ve done an exceptional job making sure that we have all of the safety measures in place,” Paine said. “But, obviously for people that are fearful about COVID, you know I am worried that’s going to preclude them from coming to jury service."

The goal right now is to begin jury trials by Nov. 16. They expect to get approval from the state on their plan by Monday or Tuesday and then the jury process will begin.

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