By Ray King
The Arkansas Supreme Court has issued new guidelines to resume some in-person proceedings in courts around the state while maintaining the safety of the public and particularly participants in court proceedings.
The new guidelines were issued late Thursday and among other things, deal with the authorization to begin jury trials and to issue summons immediately for jury service that will begin on July 1.
The new guidelines provide that there may be no more than 50 people in the courtroom or venue where the proceedings occur, as long as they adhere to the guidelines of the Department of Health. That means they will be required to use face coverings or masks, maintain social distancing of at least six-feet, body temperature checks and health questionnaires will be required as will the availability of hand soap and sanitizers. Areas that are touched frequently must be sanitized during the day and after the day’s proceedings.
Civil jury trials may be conducted, in whole or in part by video conferences while criminal jury trials must be done in person, except that jury selection may be done by video conferencing if all parties agree.
In the case of criminal jury trials, delays to speedy trial requirements as a result of actions taken because of the COVID-19 pandemic will be considered good cause under the state’s rules of criminal procedure.
The court order does not mandate the resumption of in-person proceedings but does lift the suspension that was announced earlier.
“Protection of the public from unnecessary risks will depend largely on the discretion of individual judges,” the order said. “Decisions shall be based on the growth of the virus in the area, the size of the venue in which in which court is conducted, the security measures necessary to conduct trials, the availability of personal protective equipment and other factors.”
“As such, jury trials in some counties may resume n July, whereas most parts of Arkansas might not resume jury trials until September or later,” the order said.