SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Chatham County District Attorney’s Office says grand jury proceedings will resume this month. Due to the ongoing judicial emergency, jury trials have been on hold since March.
The DA’s office says the decision was made in partnership with the Georgia Department of Health. They plan to provide free on-site COVID-19 testing for jury participants and staff.
“Our criminal court system has been shut down for a year, but crime and the pursuit of justice are ongoing,” said DA Shalena Cook Jones in a press release Friday.
The tests are administered by local company COVID Testing Appointments, LLC. in partnership with My Nurse Now and InnovativeGX Labs.
Jones says her team met with judges and other officials to ensure that grand jury sessions will be safe and in compliance with state and local social distancing guidelines.
“Grand jurors offer a valuable and often overlooked service to the public. This is a good way to demonstrate that we care about their health and safety as well,” said Jones.
Defense attorney Michael Schiavone says the build-up of cases is a major issue, and one that existed before the pandemic.
“The court system, I think, is in a major crisis,” he said.
Schiavone has been practicing law for 40 years. He says the pandemic left the court system in uncharted territory.
“Now, we are confronted with people’s constitutional right to a speedy trial, and that’s being denied everywhere,” he said, “the law is not adapted to a pandemic.”
He says the backlog is filling up jails — and his clients who were denied bond suffer the most.
“The district attorney is going to have to negotiate cases, cases in which they might not make a plea offer or they make a plea offer that a defense lawyer knows his client won’t accept,” said Schiavone, “that’s going to have to change.”
On Wednesday, judges told Georgia lawmakers the backlog could take years to clear. Schiavone agrees and says the court system is no more equipped to clear backlogs than it was before the pandemic started.