Trials resuming for first time since COVID-19 pandemic with changes inside courtrooms

Updated: Sep. 15, 2020 at 3:39 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Courtrooms in the Lowcountry and around the state are getting ready to resume holding jury trials. It will be the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will look a lot different inside the courtroom, especially for jurors.

On Monday, the State Supreme Court Chief Justice issued an order for courts across the state to start preparing for both criminal and jury trials and to start those preparations by next Monday.

Charleston County Clerk of Court Julie Armstrong says her team is ready.

“Well it’s because our good team here has worked together. We have a safety plan in place,” Armstrong said. Armstrong said that means making changes inside the courtrooms.

“We have to still follow the CDC guidelines in social distancing and temperature checks,” she said.

The biggest changes will involve the jurors selected for the trial. Under normal circumstances they would sit in the jury box.

Now because of the pandemic they will sit here where family members and observers sit. Armstrong said there will be cameras and video monitors set up to allow jurors to get a close up look at testimony.

But before any juror is chosen they will have to be screened.

"All jurors and witnesses will be given a questionnaire to fill out to make sure we’re in compliance with CDC and no one has COVID exposure to expose any of the participants,” Armstrong said.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said her office will be ready for the first trials when the schedule is set.

“Preparing for a case is going to be new and different for us as well,” Wilson said.

Wilson said it will be up to an administrative judge to decide how to handle a backlog of cases.

“We’ll look mainly at jail cases and the cases that are old, cases that have victims,” she said.

Armstrong said the first trial is a civil case is scheduled for Nov. 9, and the first criminal trial is scheduled for Nov. 16. Dorchester County has scheduled its first trial, a criminal case, for Sept. 28.

Berkeley County court officials have not yet set their trial schedule.

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