COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Open Courts and Limited Suspension

Please see below for information  about the Tennessee Supreme Court's Limited Suspension Orders affecting "in-person" court proceedings.

To see the specific Criminal Court protocols, please click here

Open Courts

Are the Criminal Courts open?

Yes, the Criminal Courts remain open, though some proceedings are limited.  On March 13, 2020, the Supreme Court ordered a limited suspension of some “in-person” court proceedings.   On March 25, 2020, this limited suspension period was extended to last through April 30, 2020.  Importantly, however, this limited suspension is subject to several exceptions. 

Absent unforeseen circumstances, the Criminal Court judges will be present and available in the office during the Suspension Period.

How long is the Suspension Period?

The Suspension Period for “in-person” proceedings will currently expire on April 30, 2020. 

Absent extension of the Suspension Period, the Second Division will resume “in-person” court proceedings, subject to various safety protocols, on Friday, May 1, 2020.

Will the Suspension Period be extended?

On March 25, 2020, the original Suspension Period was extended to last through April 30, 2020.  Depending upon circumstances, it is possible that even this extended suspension period may be further extended.  But, it is too early to tell.  The Chief Justice has made clear that the Supreme Court “may amend this Order as the situation evolves, and we understand more about the obstacles judges and court staff are facing.” 

However, both the Supreme Court and this Court are committed to keeping the courts of Tennessee open, consistent with the Judiciary’s obligation to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19.

Why did the Supreme Court suspend some “in-person” proceedings?

As the Chief Justice has noted, the goal of the Suspension Period is “to limit the number of people coming into court each day while continuing to meet our duty and administer justice.” 

Indeed, the Chief Justice correctly observed that “[p]ublic spaces in courthouses tend to be small, tightly packed bench seats that provide the type of situations public health officials have encouraged people to avoid during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Thus, in issuing its original order and its supplemental order, the Supreme Court has responsibly struck “a balance in limiting the public’s exposure to the virus with continuing essential court functions judges must provide to ensure the administration of justice.”

What does the Supreme Court’s Suspension Order say?

In general, the original Supreme Court suspended “[a]ll in-person proceedings in all state and local courts in Tennessee,” through Tuesday, March 31, 2020.   On March 25, 2020, the Supreme Court extended the Suspension Period to last through April 30, 2020.

Importantly, however, both the original Suspension Order and the Supplemental Order contain important exceptions to the suspension of "in-person" court proceedings.  For example, the Criminal Court may hold an “in-person” hearing, subject to safety protocols, where “necessary to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants, including bond-related matters and plea agreements for incarcerated individuals below.”

The Criminal Court will also continue to act where “in-person” proceedings are not required. These types of cases may include those that can be held via telephone or videoconferencing and where the Court can act without a hearing.