Court officials change strategy with 2013 laws

the 2013 Evidence Code Summary Trial Guide has been given to local court officials. / Jessica Fairley

After years of following its own standards, the state of Georgia is now re-modeling its evidence law codes after the federal government.

This is just one of many changes for the state of Georgia in 2013.

New law codes will change the type of evidence that can be used in both criminal and civil cases.

Each lawyer within the Dougherty County District Attorney's Office has received a 2013 Evidence Code Summary book containing information about the changes to the way they'll perform in court.

"Judges are being given retraining of all of this. So everybody's being retooled and retrained to adopt the new rules of evidence that will be effective now," said Greg Edwards, Dougherty County District Attorney.

As court officials change their evidence codes, another law is changing the way domestic violence is identified in court.

Some of the marital privileges used before will not be available to prevent one spouse from testifying against another in court about acts of abuse. However communication between domestic violence victims and shelter workers who take them in will be privileged.

Also in the law this year, volunteers for schools and shelters have been added to the list of people who are mandated to report child abuse.

"Mandatory reporters are people that are required to provide information if they have a reasonable belief that a child has been abused," said Greg Edwards.

Teachers and medical professionals have been mandated as child abuse reporters for years. Those mandated to report child abuse and fail to do so may face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

By expanding the list of those required to speak up about the issue, officials are hoping to help more children who are in abusive situations.

Those with the Salvation Army say for the past three years they've used their 'Safe from Harm' program to train volunteers on how to deal with child abuse.

"It's actually an online course that everybody takes. It's an awareness course of things to look for and things to protect yourself when you handle it," said Major Kelly English.

As state officials seek to stop child abuse, they're also seeking to help prisoners through corrections reform.

"The larger issue is to look at other alternatives to physical incarceration," said Greg Edwards.

He says the goal of the state is to save tax payer dollars by finding alternative ways to monitor and rehabilitate prisoners.