Criminal Process

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Classes of Offenses

Felony: offense for which punishment may be imprisonment of at least one (1) year or more.

Class A Felony. Imprisonment not less than fifteen (15) nor more than sixty (60) years in prison. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), unless otherwise provided by statute.

Class B Felony. Imprisonment not less than eight (8) nor more than thirty (30) years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000), unless otherwise provided by statute.

Class C Felony. Imprisonment not less than three (3) years nor more than fifteen (15) years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000), unless otherwise provided by statute.

Class D Felony. Imprisonment not less than two (2) years nor more than twelve (12) years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed five thousand dollars ($5,000), unless otherwise provided by statute.

Class E Felony. Imprisonment not less than one (1) year nor more than six (6) years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed three thousand dollars ($3,000), unless otherwise provided by statute.

 

Misdemeanorsoffense for which the maximum punishment may be imprisonment of eleven (11) months and twenty-nine (29) days.

Class A Misdemeanor. Imprisonment not greater than eleven (11) months, twenty-nine (29) days or a fine not to exceed two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500), or both, unless otherwise provided by statute.

Class B Misdemeanor. Imprisonment not greater than six (6) months or a fine not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500), or both, unless otherwise provided by statute.

Class C Misdemeanor. Imprisonment not greater than thirty (30) days or a fine not to exceed fifty dollars ($50.00), or both, unless otherwise provided by statute.

Important Standards

Reasonable Suspicion

Standard which can justify brief stops and detentions, but not justify a full search or arrest.

Courts typically look at the totality of the circumstances of each case to assess if an officer has a particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing.

Probable Cause.

Standard found in the Fourth Amendment that usually must be met before police make an arrest, conduct a full search, or receive a warrant.  

Courts typically look if there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed or when evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched.

Reasonable Doubt.

Standard of proof required in a criminal trial to find a defendant guilty of a crime. The prosecution must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In our American criminal justice system, the accused has a presumption of innocence. A jury must find no other logical explanation except that the defendant committed the crime.

Criminal Courts

Municipal “City” Courts.

These courts typically hear ordinance violations, traffic violations, and code violations. They can impose fines, court costs, and civil penalties.

General Sessions.

These courts hear a variety of criminal issues. They conduct preliminary hearings to determine whether there is probable cause to hold a person over to the action of the Grand Jury.

A person charged with a misdemeanor may resolve the case at the General Sessions level. A person charged with a felony may have a preliminary hearing at the General Sessions level; however, the case must be resolved in the Criminal Court.

Circuit/Criminal Court.

These courts are the primary trial court for felony offences. They may also hear misdemeanor appeals from lower courts. They also hears post-conviction petitions.

Court of Criminal Appeals.

This court hears trial appeals in felony and misdemeanor cases. It also hears appeals of post-conviction petitions.

Supreme Court.

This court is the state’s court of last resort. They may accept appeals from lower courts. They interpret the laws and constitutions of Tennessee and the United States. They may assume jurisdiction over undecided cases from the Court of Criminal Appeals when there is special need for an expedited decision.

Stages in the Process

Citation/Arrest.

The criminal process begins after a person commits an activity which appears to be a violation of the law.

In Tennessee, an officer may issue a citation to an arrested person to appear in court in lieu of the continued custody. If you are taken into custody and held for an offense, you will later be taken before a magistrate judge for an initial appearance.

Preliminary Hearing.

A preliminary hearing is available Tennessee. If the defendant remains in custody, the hearing should be within ten (10) days. If the defendant has been released, the hearing should be within thirty (30) days.

When the magistrate at a preliminary hearing determines from the evidence that an offense has been committed and there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed it, the magistrate shall bind the defendant over to the grand jury and either release the defendant pursuant to applicable law or commit the defendant to jail by a written order.

When the magistrate determines from the evidence that there is not sufficient proof to establish that an offense has been committed or probable cause that the defendant committed it, the magistrate shall discharge the defendant. The discharge of the defendant does not preclude the state from instituting a subsequent prosecution for the same offense.

Grand Jury.

A grand jury is a body of thirteen (13) citizens who meet to hear evidence of criminal activity in order to determine if there is probable cause to require the defendant to stand trial.

If the grand jury determines there is probable cause to require the person to stand trial, they will return either a True Bill of Indictment or a Presentment. If the grand jury does not find probable cause it will then return a No True Bill of Indictment.

Arraignment.

If a grand jury has returned an indictment or presentment the defendant will be brought into Criminal Court for arraignment. Arraignment is the initial appearance in the trial court where the person is formally advised of the charge(s).

Pre-Trial.

Prior to trial, parties will engage in a process called discovery. The prosecution and defense exchange information and evidence which may prove innocence/guilt, be presented at trial, enhance plea negotiations, or otherwise promote the administration of justice.

Trial.

A defendant in Criminal Court has a right to a jury trial. The trial jury is composed of twelve (12) citizens who will hear the case and decide the defendant’s guilt or innocence based upon the “reasonable doubt” standard.

Appeal.

If the defendant is convicted, there is a right to appeal the conviction to the Court of Criminal Appeals and then to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Post-Conviction Relief.

A defendant who has unsuccessfully exhausted all appeals, thereafter has the right to file a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief in the trial court.

A petition for post-conviction relief is an application to the court, filed by or on behalf of a person convicted of and sentenced for the commission of a criminal offense, that seeks to have the conviction or sentence set aside or an appeal granted on the ground or grounds that the conviction or the sentence or the denial of an appeal violated the state or federal constitution.

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