RALEIGH — Chief Justice Cheri Beasley issued new emergency directives on July 16 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that require the wearing of face coverings inside county courthouses and ask officials to begin planning for the resumption of jury trials.
Beasley said she issued the emergency directives to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina’s communities.
“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,” Beasley said in a statement.
Beasley announced that jury trials in North Carolina courts will be delayed through at least September, and has directed senior resident superior court judges to develop comprehensive plans for the eventual safe resumption of jury trials in their districts. According to Beasley, each jury trial resumption plan must ensure that all court operations are in compliance with each of her emergency directives and must be informed by the best safety practices distributed by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.
Each jury trial resumption plan must include:
- A confirmation that each court facility and any alternate facility to be used for court operations is in compliance with each of the chief justice’s emergency orders in response to the COVID-19 outbreak;
- A plan for summoning and excusing jurors, which allows for as much of the process to be handled remotely as possible;
- A plan for conducting voir dire with social distancing;
- A plan for conducting trials with social distancing in the courtroom for all court participants, including the jury, and in the deliberation room;
- A plan for daily screening of jurors, court personnel, attorneys, witnesses, and parties for COVID-19 exposure or infection;
- A plan for making face coverings available to jurors, court personnel, attorneys, witnesses and parties;
- A plan for responding in the event that a juror, defendant, attorney, witness, judge or other 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 jury trial resumption plan must be approved by the following officials in the county: the chief district court judge, the clerk of superior court, the district attorney, a 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 public health director.
For a list of orders from the chief justice and the Supreme Court of North Carolina, visit www.nccourts.gov/covid-19. The public is encouraged to visit www.nccourts.gov to find answers to frequently asked questions before calling the local courthouse.
Announcements from local counties about changes to court operations can be found at www.nccourts.gov/closings.
The public may also visit the Judicial Branch Facebook page and Twitter account for the latest court information related to the coronavirus health concern.