The Hall County courthouse is aiming to resume grand jury proceedings in early November, and court officials are strategizing on a way for potential grand jurors who are medically fragile or health-concerned to be excused.
“(The judges) are going to be sensitive to those with medical concerns being called in,” court administrator Jason Stephenson said Friday, Sept. 11.
Stephenson said the court officials were still trying to determine a way they could allow potential grand jurors to communicate any health concerns without having to report in person.
“Every summons will include a letter from the chief judge detailing all the safety measures that we’ve spent the last four months designing and implementing so that they can have some confidence before coming in, knowing what measures we’ve taken,” Stephenson said.
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton issued his sixth order Thursday, Sept. 10, extending the emergency judicial order.
According to Melton’s order, grand juries and jury trials had been prohibited since the start of the judicial emergency in March because of the large number of people needed.
Melton’s order said this “broad prohibition cannot continue, even if the pandemic continues, because our judicial system, and the criminal justice system in particular, must have some capacity to resolve cases by indictment and trial.”
The order allows the chief judge of each Superior Court to consult with the court’s district attorney on how to resume grand jury proceedings.
“Conducting safe grand jury proceedings will provide experience useful in conducting safe jury trials,” according to Melton’s order.
Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh, who prosecutes cases in Hall and Dawson counties, said there were 315 cases as of Aug. 17 ready for grand jury overall, 244 of those being in Hall County.
More serious charges — homicide, child molestation, burglary, aggravated assault — have to go to a grand jury, while some offenses — certain theft cases, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, etc. —can go through a formal accusation, according to Georgia law.
The accusation can be filed by the district attorney’s office to move the case forward to a potential trial.
A grand jury requires 23 people and three alternates, so court officials are going to stagger the reporting times and use the jury assembly room, Stephenson said.
They will then use a courtroom instead of the usual grand jury room due to social distancing guidelines.