November 18, 2020
By: Dwayne Page
No Jury Trials will be conducted in Tennessee until at least February due to COVID-19.
The Tennessee Supreme Court issued an Order Tuesday, November 17 suspending jury trials from November 23, 2020 through January 31, 2021, unless an exemption is granted by the Chief Justice. The order is in response to the increased number of COVID-19 cases in the state.
In response, Criminal Court Judge Wesley Bray issued the following memorandum on Wednesday, November 18 to all the Circuit Court Clerks in the 13th Judicial District including DeKalb County and to the District Attorney General and District Public Defender Offices:
“In an effort to keep the “wheels of justice” moving and conform to the Supreme Court of Tennessee’s Order Extending State of Emergency and Suspending Jury Trials dated November 17, 2020, please know that I am available to schedule Zoom pleas, hear motions and to set and hold Bench Trials. Should you wish to do any of the above, or have suggestions to further your matters, please feel free to contact my office. I, truly understand the gravity and effect this Order has on the private practice of law. Please understand my office is prepared to facilitate moving matters forward within the confines of the new Order,” wrote Judge Bray.
Jury trials were previously suspended from March 13 – July 3, 2020. In addition, the Tennessee Supreme Court Order directs judicial districts to revisit and strictly adhere to their previously approved reopening plans; reiterates that the Court’s July 9 Order mandating face coverings for all persons who enter the courthouse for court-related business is still in full effect; encourages video conferencing whenever possible; reminds judges and attorneys that they have an ethical obligation to comply with Court Orders and the reopening plans drafted by the judicial districts; and prohibits anyone with COVID-19 from participating in an in-person proceeding. In addition, the Order directs judges to schedule and conduct in-person hearings in a manner that minimizes wait times in courthouse hallways, which often have limited space for social distancing.
The court’s order is designed to protect all of the participants in the judicial system and the public at large while keeping the courts open and accessible to carry out essential constitutional functions and time-sensitive proceedings. This is the Court’s sixth order related to the pandemic since it declared a state of emergency for the judicial branch on March 13, 2020.