The coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting almost every aspect of life, and as the number of Arkansans infected with the coronavirus continues to grow, many federal and state courts have been forced to modify court operations to mitigate possible exposure to the public and court employees. Likewise, federal courts across the country and in Arkansas are working with state and local health officials to better understand how the coronavirus is affecting specific areas of the state and localities.
There are two federal courts located in the state of Arkansas: the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas (three locations) and the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas (six locations). In all court locations, those who have tested positive for the coronavirus or may have been exposed to it are prohibited from entering any courthouse and are required to notify all parties involved and the court in order to determine the best possible course of action.
Eastern District of Arkansas
According to two administrative orders issued by the court on March 13 and March 18, operations at the court have been modified and will be gradually scaled back to essential proceedings. All civil jury trials in the Eastern District of Arkansas originally scheduled between March 18, 2020 and April 30, 2020 have been cancelled. All criminal jury trials scheduled between March 23 and April 30 have been postponed until further notice.
The court will continue to hold hearings, conferences, and bench trials in civil and criminal cases by telephone or video conference when possible. All large-scale public events originally scheduled at court facilities during March and April have been postponed.
Western District of Arkansas
All civil and criminal trials have been postponed and will be rescheduled after May 1, 2020. Other criminal matters, including initial appearances, arraignments, detention hearings and the issuance of search warrants will continue as scheduled or by video conference at the discretion of the presiding judge. All civil hearings and other court proceedings, including settlement conferences will take place as scheduled or by video conference at the discretion of the presiding judge.
Additional District and Circuit Courts Experience Changes As Well
In addition to Arkansas’ two federal courts, district and circuit courts throughout Arkansas are making changes as well. As the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to change daily, courts will continue to make adjustments as the virus affects their local areas.
As of March 20, 2020, some courts continue to operate while other court proceedings have either been postponed or rescheduled. In some instances, courts are hearing only time-sensitive or essential cases, and many cases involving incarcerated defendants will be conducted through video conferencing.
In almost all cases, defendants and/or their attorney should contact the district or circuit court in their area for more information about closings and cancellations.