Courts & the Law, COVID-19, News

N.C. Chief Justice issues emergency order mandating face masks in courthouses

Face masks will be required in all court facilities, according to an emergency order issued by N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley Thursday. 

The order comes as the state faces “catastrophic conditions resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak” ongoing in the state, Beasley wrote, and mounting evidence that face coverings decrease transmission of the disease.

Chief Justice Cheri Beasley

“In June, courts began conducting a greater number of in-person proceedings following the expiration of the first emergency directive that I issued in response to the pandemic,” Beasley wrote. “Since that time, dozens of court personnel have contracted COVID-19 and numerous courts have been forced to temporarily close so that the facilities could be sanitized and employees with possible exposure could be tested. If we are to continue conducting a greater number of in-person proceedings, it is vital that we utilize all available tools to limit the transmission of the virus.”

The new policy will not apply to “persons who cannot wear a face covering due to health or safety reasons, who are actively eating or drinking, who are communicating with someone who is hearing-impaired in a way that requires the mouth to be visible, who are temporarily removing their face covering to secure medical services or for identification purposes, or who are under eleven years of age.”

Beasley also directed senior resident superior court judges to develop comprehensive plans to resume jury trials in their district. Such trials will be delayed at least through September, according to Beasley’s order. But the chief justice mandates that each plan to resume them 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.

Jury Trial Resumption plans must be approved by the following officials in the county:

  • The chief district court judge;
  • The clerk of superior court;
  • The district attorney;
  • The 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.

All  COVID-19 related orders issued by the Chief Justice and N.C. Supreme Court can be found here.

All court closings and advisories can be found here.

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