What Does COVID-19 Mean for My Court Date?

AtlantaGeorgiaCapitol_0-300x169A pandemic has been sweeping across the United States in the last few months. It is known as the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, and it causes a host of respiratory symptoms, including a dry cough, difficulty breathing, and persistent chest pain. While a COVID-19 infection is not fatal for most people, it is highly contagious and has a much higher fatality rate among the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Many of us will be able to survive an infection with COVID-19, but you could spread that infection to someone who can’t.

As of this writing, there is no widely available vaccine for COVID-19. This means that the best way of combating person to person spread of this virus is to practice social distancing. This means limiting large groups of people coming together, closing public venues, and canceling public events. Close contact in a crowd setting can help a virus spread like wildfire, making these measures essential.

Over the last few weeks, many places have closed their doors to the public or at least heavily limited their interactions with them. Many of Georgia’s courts are no exception to this trend. On March 14, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton signed an order declaring a statewide judicial emergency, suspending all non-essential court functions for the next 30 days in order to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Courts across the state¬†immediately paid heed and passed their own emergency orders.

The exact nature of these emergency judicial orders, including how long court procedures will be suspended, what is suspended, and what is still on the calendar, varies from circuit to circuit. Be sure to check with your court to see how they are handling this matter.

Most courts across Georgia have agreed to only hear essential matters for the next 30 days. This means that if your court appearance involves an immediate threat to your safety or liberty, then it is still on the court calendar. Hearings falling under this category include criminal court search warrants and arrest warrants, initial appearances and bond reviews, juvenile court delinquency detention hearings, temporary protective orders for domestic abuse, emergency removals, and mental health commitment hearings.

As mentioned before, the various Superior Court Chief Judges in Georgia are responding to this judicial emergency order differently, with some, such as Clayton County’s courts, closing for business completely for the next two weeks. As a general rule, any hearings that do not fall under the categories listed above and were scheduled to take place within the next 30 days will be re-set to a later date. Jury trials have been suspended for at least a week and up to the full 30 days, depending on the court.

If your upcoming court hearing is not considered an essential matter, you can expect it to be rescheduled to a later date. Keep an ear open for your new court date, and make sure to check your court’s website to see how they have chosen to respond to this judicial emergency order. Said emergency order is expected to be in effect through April 13, 2020, unless circumstances lead it to be extended further.

This sudden re-scheduling of your court date might be inconvenient, but this judicial order was passed for a very good reason. By limiting the Georgia courts’ interaction with the public, COVID-19 has even fewer chances to spread. We all need to practice responsible social distancing, including those who work with Georgia’s legal system.

As you wait for your new court date, be mindful of the other things you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, don’t touch your face with unwashed hands, and use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content when soap and water aren’t available. Try to maintain a six-foot distance from sick people and wear a face mask if you are sick and absolutely have to go out in public. Cough or sneeze into tissues before promptly disposing of them, and make sure to disinfect surfaces that are touched frequently.

Contact the Don Turner Legal Team if you have any questions or concerns about this emergency judicial order and how it might affect your court case. In the meantime, take care of yourself and do your best to practice good hygiene and responsible social distancing. We can stop COVID-19 in its tracks, but only if we all do our part to halt its spread.

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