By Ray King

The Arkansas Supreme Court has again suspended jury trials in the state as a result of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

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In an opinion delivered Tuesday, the high court said jury trials that are currently underway are to be completed but trials that have not begun will be suspended until Feb. 28.

Jury trials in Arkansas has previously been suspended until Jan. 15 by a court opinion delivered Nov. 20.

That order also called for judges continue to move cases forward, either through the use of technology by virtual or telephone hearings or through in-person hearings that meet the criteria of the State Department of Health.

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Those guidelines for group gatherings of 10 or more do not apply to the courts, Supreme Court Chief Judge John Dan Kemp said in a letter to judges Monday.

Dr. Joel Tumlison, who is acting as a liaison to the courts said courts should keep the number of people attending in-person proceedings to a number that would safely accommodate the maximum number of people being allowed using social distancing of at least six-feet between each person and other recommended guidelines.

The November opinion said criminal matters such as first appearances, arraignments, plea and sentencing hearings will continue to take place using technology or in-person as scheduled by the presiding judge. The same thing applies to civil hearings and the Supreme Court said judges are expected to hold court hearings through safe and appropriate means – preferably virtual or telephone (both on record) – for justice to occur.

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The opinion also continues an order on March 17, 2020 that provided that trial delays that resulted because of the COVID-19 pandemic are excluded from speedy-trial purposes.