Sara L. Darrow
Sara L. Darrow

SPRINGFIELD — The federal district court in Springfield is allowing video or telephone conferencing in certain criminal matters until at least July 1 to contain the spread of COVID-19, according to an order Tuesday from Chief U.S. District Judge Sara L. Darrow.

The order applies to, among other matters, felony pleas and felony sentencings, if the district judge finds that the plea or sentencing in a particular case cannot be further delayed.

Darrow’s order cites the section of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), that permits video or phone conferencing for certain criminal proceedings if the U.S. Judicial Conference finds that emergency conditions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak will materially affect the functioning of the federal courts generally.

At a March 29 meeting, “the Judicial Conference of the United States declared that emergency conditions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak are materially affecting, and will continue to materially affect, the functioning of the federal courts generally,” Darrow’s order states.

Video or telephone conferencing can only take place with consent of the defendant or juvenile after consulting with counsel, according to the order.

The order also applies to: detention hearings; initial appearances; preliminary hearings; waivers of indictment; arraignments; probation and supervised revocation proceedings; appearances under the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 40; misdemeanor pleas and sentencings; and proceedings under the Federal Juvenile Detention Act.

Darrow issued an order March 26 allowing non-incarcerated pro se litigants the option to submit filings via email through May 18.

On March 18, Darrow issued an order delaying all civil and criminal jury trials through May 18. Her March 18 order also closed the courthouses in Springfield and Urbana to the public.

The federal courthouse located in Peoria remains open with limited staff.