NC jury trials remain on hold due to COVID-19

Published: May. 21, 2020 at 9:58 PM EDT
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North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley issued an order Thursday postponing all jury trials due to the coronavirus pandemic. The order also extended filing deadlines for criminal cases until July 31 and June 1 for civil cases.

Onslow County District Attorney Ernie Lee said, he hasn’t had a jury trial since March and believes the postponement is necessary but postpones cases that often take months, if not years, to prepare and need to be handled.

“I've got one scheduled for august 24 right now,” said Lee. “And then I've got another murder case in Onslow County around February 22 of 2021, so I've got quite a few murder cases coming up back to back to back.”

To keep all parties involved safe when big trials on the docket are able to move forward, Lee said he’s working to implement social distancing in jury stands and on benches, limiting counsel allowed in the courtroom and staggering shifts for staff.

“We’re just really trying to think outside the box on this,” said Lee. “We cannot continue cases indefinitely. There are some cases that are definitely for trial. So, we’ve got to be able to set some sort of mechanism in place so that we can actually try these cases.”

The Onslow County Courthouse is scheduled to re-open to the public for traffic court and other civil cases on Monday, June 1. Chief District Court Judge Sarah Seaton said those cases are going to have to be held with limited capacity and she's asking for the public’s patience as cases are likely to be held out longer than usual.

“Any given day in motor vehicle court, you can have 700 cases on the calendar, so obviously those calendars have been limited,” said Seaton. “Everybody is going to be a little on edge, because there is fear. We will try to get you through the system as quickly as we can.”

Court officials said they have been getting creative with technology during the pandemic by using video calls to communicate in cases. They also plan on making masks mandatory during those trials as well.