The Supreme Court of South Carolina
RE: In-Person Proceedings and Jury Trials in the Trial Courts
For the last two years, the South Carolina Judicial Branch has been forced to alter normal operating procedures in the trial courts due to the dangers caused by COVID-19. To protect the public, attorneys, judges, and court personnel, courts have been directed to halt or limit jury trials and in-person proceedings at various times due to rising rates of infection and percent positive rates. These directives have been based on guidance from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
At many times over the past two years, the Judicial Branch has directed that the trial courts proceed with caution. Over the past several months, the Omicron variant has caused a surge in cases, which has resulted in directions that courts conduct more hearings remotely and permitting the increased use of remote communication technology to conduct guilty pleas.
Fortunately, case numbers and percent positive rates are now declining rapidly. Even though some precautions can and should still be taken, the time has come to more aggressively schedule jury trials and in-person proceedings. This aggressive action is necessary to address the backlog of cases in the trial courts of this state and better ensure that the courts of this state fulfill their constitutional obligation to provide a speedy remedy for wrongs sustained in accordance with Article I, § 9, of the South Carolina Constitution.
Therefore, pursuant to Article V, § 4 of the South Carolina Constitution, I direct the trial courts of this state to take the following actions.
I direct the chief judges for administrative purposes and the clerks of court to work together to ensure that courtroom space is utilized to the maximum extent possible. To that end, all courtrooms should be open to conduct judicial business, to the extent that personnel is available to operate in those courtrooms.
Further, courts must expand their jury rosters and dockets and permit more jury trials to be conducted. Chief judges and clerks must work together to ensure that, when a civil matter scheduled for trial ultimately settles, or when a criminal matter scheduled for trial results in a guilty plea, sufficient backup jury trial cases are available so that resources are properly utilized.
Where permitted by the Supreme Court's order titled RE: Use of Remote Communication Technology by the Trial Courts (As Amended September 21, 2021), judges should continue to utilize remote communication technology to conduct hearings where courtroom space is unavailable or a court reporter is not immediately available.
s/Donald W. Beatty
Donald W. Beatty
Chief Justice of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
March 1, 2022