By HEATHER WALTERS
Colleton County law enforcement officers have been holding most of its court hearings virtually, as part of in-person and crowd-based restrictions coming from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a new order released by the state’s Chief Justice says most court cases can now resume in-person.
Recently, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued an order allowing in-person proceedings and jury trials in all Summary Courts to resume. This is a statewide order that includes court hearings in Colleton County. Until now, all in-person court proceedings and jury trials were temporarily stopped because of COVID-19, the contagious respiratory virus.
According to the S.C. Supreme Court Order, these court processes were stopped in an effort to “protect the public, attorneys, judges and court personnel.”
The order also states that for “one year, our state and nation have battled the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, the South Carolina Judicial Branch has been forced to alter our courts’ normal operating procedures.”
Now, however, the S.C. Supreme Court says that in-person court hearings can resume. The decision to resume in-person hearings came from a “falling” number of COVID cases and “percent-positive” cases in South Carolina, along with safety protocols that are in place statewide, as stated in the order.
Officially, all in-person proceedings resumed statewide on Monday, March 15th, according to the order.
Jury trials are still temporarily prohibited, due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, jury trials are expected to resume across the Palmetto State on April 5th, according to an order signed by S.C. Chief Justice Donald W. Beatty.
Since the S.C. Supreme Court first put a stop to all in -person hearings, most counties in the state have been using a virtual method to keep the judicial branch of government flowing. Colleton was no different, with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office using cameras that were installed in its court rooms to hold virtual hearings. With the new Supreme Court Order, the local sheriff’s office finished its last virtual hearing on Monday, March 8th.
The county’s Municipal Court has not yet released guidelines on how the in-person hearings will be held. However, according to the S.C. Supreme Court’s Order, all counties have to have a protocol in place. Colleton County is still operating under a countywide mask ordinance, as dictated by a county ordinance that was recently reenforced by Colleton County Council.