On May 4, 2021, Buchanan County became the first county in the 29th Judicial Circuit (Buchanan, Tazewell, Russell, and Dickenson Counties) to successfully complete a jury trial after the Covid-19 pandemic. In March of 2020, the Supreme Court of Virginia halted all court hearings, except those deemed emergencies, such as protective orders, bond hearings, and other time sensitive matters. However, despite being the cornerstone of the criminal justice system, jury trials were expressly prohibited. Later that year, matters that could be conducted using video conferencing equipment, such as pleas, sentencings, and probation violations, as well as matters in the district courts, were re-instated. In early 2021, the Virginia Supreme Court began allowing jurisdictions to resume jury trials, provided that they submitted a jury trial plan that conformed to CDC Covid-19 guidelines and that those plans received Supreme Court approval.
On March 26, Buchanan County received approval for its plan to conduct jury trials. On May 4th, the first jury since the COVID shutdown was convened to hear the case against Charlie McClanahan, 45, of Grundy Virginia who was charged with Driving Under the Influence.
During the trial, Officer Todd Hackney testified that he found McClanahan sitting inside of an idling coal truck. McClanahan even admitted that he “was too drunk to be driving” and had drunk four 40oz beers. After arrest, McClanahan blew a 0.18 on the breathalyzer, which is more than twice the presumptive amount allowable by law.
After hearing all of the evidence, including McClanahan’s testimony, the jury convicted him of the DUI charge, and he was sentenced to serve 5 days, along with a 12 month suspension of his license.
When asked about the trial, Commonwealth’s Attorney Gerald Arrington stated, “Clearly Mr. McClanahan did not need to be operating a vehicle, let alone a coal truck, that night.” Arrington went on to say that, “We really appreciated the jurors’ patience as we get the criminal justice system moving forward again with new restrictions in place and applaud them for their willingness to serve as jurors in these strange times.”