The criminal justice system can be intimidating. If you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges, you likely have questions and concerns about what to expect. While the criminal process follows a similar pattern in most states, each state has its own rules. Criminal defendants in Tennessee should bear some key points in mind.
Officers must follow specific procedures when arresting someone. They cannot simply take someone into custody on a hunch that the person has committed a crime. They must either have witnessed the act, have reasonable probable cause to believe the person broke the law or have a warrant. An officer must inform you of why you are being arrested and is obligated to inform you of your rights, including the right to remain silent. These are known as Miranda rights.
Bail and Release
Once you’ve been taken into police custody, getting released is likely your highest priority. Your first court appearance, before a magistrate, should occur within a few days of your arrest. Depending on the severity of the charges and whether the court deems you reliable to show up for mandatory court appearances, the judge may set a bail amount — a dollar amount you must come up with to secure your release. Some individuals may be released on their own recognizance.
Entering a Plea
For lesser charges, you may be called upon to enter a plea during that first court appearance. Felony defendants have more formal arraignments later in the process. There are three choices for pleas in Tennessee criminal cases: guilty, not guilty or no contest. A no contest plea means you are not contesting the charges against you, but you are stopping short of admitting guilt.
Should You Accept a Plea Deal?
Plea bargains are a familiar concept to many people. Here’s how plea bargaining works: The prosecution and defense work out a deal, in which you agree to plead a certain way in exchange for a lesser sentence than you may get if the case went to trial. Your attorney can help decide if a plea bargain is a good idea for your case.
Even though you’ve reached this point in the process, there’s still no guarantee your case will go to trial. A preliminary trial may be necessary to determine if there is enough admissible evidence against you to proceed. If the prosecution fails to present compelling evidence, the case may be dismissed. The preliminary hearing also provides an opportunity for either attorney to file any pretrial motions. With felony cases, a grand jury must also weigh in before your case goes to trial. A grand jury indictment is followed by the formal arraignment.
The actual trial is when the prosecution and defense both make their cases before the court, and each side gets to challenge one another’s evidence and witness testimony. If you are found guilty, the next step is sentencing.
Find more information about Tennessee's state courts.
How Can a Tennessee Criminal Lawyer Help?
Each state has its own rules when it comes to prosecuting criminal cases. If you have been charged with a crime in Tennessee, a knowledgeable criminal lawyer can guide you through the process and ensure that no issues are overlooked.