Though valiant efforts have been made to keep the system moving via Zoom hearings and other artifices, the flow of criminal cases through the court system has been choked off considerably by a judicial order banning the calling of grand juries which has been in place since March. Last week, chief justice Harold Melton of the state supreme court lifted that restriction.
Jury trials remain temporarily on hold, however.
“This broad prohibition (of calling grand juries and conducting trials) cannot continue, even if the pandemic continues, because our judicial system in particular, must have some capacity to resolve cases by indictment and trial,” Judge Melton wrote in his order. He is expected to okay jury trials around Oct. 10.
Chief judge Tommy Wilson is to convene committees in each of the Towaliga circuit’s three counties to develop guidelines for safely resuming jury trials.
District attorney Jonathan Adams expects to call grand juries along the usual schedule, convening them in Butts County in October, Monroe County in November and Lamar County in December. Trials would begin 30 days after the grand juries are convened in each county.
The current backlog is about 200 cases circuit-wide and 30-40 cases in Lamar County with dozens of new crimes committed each day.
“We have used accusations when allowed by law and waivers of grand jury indictment when possible for pleas to keep cases moving but there is still considerable backlog,” Adams concluded.