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Jury trials delayed, face masks mandatory in court

Jury trials in North Carolina are delayed until at least September, and resident superior court judges must develop plans for trials to safely resume, North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has announced. 

Beasley also announced that face masks are now mandatory in all North Carolina courthouses during a press conference on July 16. 

“I have issued several emergency directives calculated to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina’s communities,” Beasley said. “Consistent with the governor’s recommendations and the clear guidance of public health experts, requiring face coverings in courthouses is necessary to keep our courts open while protecting court personnel and the public.”

Each Jury Trial Resumption Plan must ensure that all court operations are in compliance with each of Beasley’s emergency directives and be patterned after Best Safety Practices distributed by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.

The plans must include a confirmation that each court facility and any alternate facility used for court operations is in compliance with each of the emergency orders in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The summoning and excusing of jurors should allow for as much of the process to be handled remotely as possible. All facets of trials will require social distancing for all participants, including the jury, both in the courtroom and in the deliberation room. 

The judges must also craft plans for daily screening of jurors, court personnel, attorneys, witnesses, and parties for COVID-19 exposure or infection. Face coverings must be available to jurors, court personnel, attorneys, witnesses, and others.

Judges will need a response plan ready in case any participant in a case or courtroom personnel becomes symptomatic, tests positive for COVID-19, or has a known exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 during the trial.

Each of the plans must  be approved by the chief district court judge, the clerk of superior court, the district attorney, the public defender (or a criminal defense attorney chosen by the senior resident superior court judge in districts without a public defender), the sheriff, and the county’s public health director.

 

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