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NC Courthouses Require Everyone to Wear Face Coverings; Jury Trials to be Delayed Through September

By Nathan Ham

Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced on Thursday that anyone inside county courthouses throughout North Carolina must wear a face covering.

“I have issued several emergency directives calculated to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina’s communities,” said Chief Justice Beasley. “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.”

In addition to the face-covering decision, Beasley said that all jury trials will be delayed at least through September. The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts has started crafting a detailed plan on all of the specifics that must be in place before jury trials can resume.

So far, seven parts of the plan have been constructed. Those plans 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.

The plan also takes into consideration each county official that will be involved in the trial process. The trial plan must be approved by the chief district court judge, the clerk of superior court, the district attorney, the public defender/criminal defense attorney, the sheriff, and the public health director.