Being involved in the criminal justice system can be confusing and difficult to understand. Whether issued a citation for a misdemeanor offense or arrested for a more serious crime, the days, weeks and months following can be intimidating for anyone who has not experienced the system before. This blog will generally cover what can be expected, although there are exceptions.
Being charged with a criminal offense may begin either by receiving a citation or by arrest. Individuals who are cited for a criminal offense, or offenses, are generally permitted to be released following receipt of the citation. A court date is provided and the individual is expected to appear.
In the event of an arrest, the individual is generally taken to a local law enforcement office (jail or police department), where he or she will be booked (processed) and a bail amount is set. If bail is posted, the individual is released after being given a court date. In the event bail is not posted, the individual remains in custody until his or her court date. There are occasions when an individual is not required to post a bail amount before being released. This is often referred to as an "ROR" or being released on recognizance, meaning the individual promises to appear in court at the scheduled time.
Many criminal cases begin in general sessions court. There are exceptions and those are not addressed in this blog. Many criminal cases are resolved in general sessions court through a plea agreement (often referred to as a plea bargain). General sessions courts only have the authority to dispose of misdemeanor criminal cases. If an individual is charged with a felony offense, even if he or she wants to plead guilty, unless there is a plea bargain agreement to reduce the felony offense to a misdemeanor offense, the felony offense must be transferred to another court, circuit or criminal court, in order to be resolved.
The transfer of cases from general sessions court to circuit or criminal court can be done one of two ways. Every criminal defendant who has a criminal case in general sessions court is entitled to have a hearing, known as a preliminary hearing, where the general sessions judge is required to make a decision of whether there is probable cause for the case to be transferred to circuit or criminal court. If the general sessions court does not find probable cause, the judge must dismiss the case.
Some counties have circuit court; some have criminal court; they are essentially the same as they have the same jurisdiction, or authority, to hear criminal cases. Before the government can prosecute a criminal case in circuit or criminal court, every person accused of a crime has a right to have a grand jury review his or her case to determine whether there is a basis for the government to prosecute. If the grand jury finds probable cause for the criminal case to be prosecuted, an indictment (a charging instrument) is issued and the defendant will be prosecuted in circuit or criminal court.
A case pending in circuit or criminal court can either be resolved by plea agreement (plea bargain just as in general sessions court), bench trial or jury trial. A major difference between these courts and general sessions court is that an individual cannot have a jury trial in general sessions court. There are other ways a case can be disposed of in circuit or criminal court, such as raising legal, or "technical," issues concerning the government's ability to prosecute. This blog does not address these types of matters, nor does this blog address the right to appeal to the courts after the circuit or criminal courts.
This is only a general overview of the way a criminal case is handled in Tennessee state courts. There are exceptions to this process that are not addressed in this blog. There are important issues that must be addressed at each stage in the criminal justice system. It is critical to have an attorney who has experience in handling cases at every level of the criminal justice system. Murfreesboro criminal attorneys at Parkerson Santel have a significant amount of experience defending cases in Tennessee state courts.
In Rutherford County, criminal cases are handled at the Rutherford County Judicial Building located at 20 North Public Square, Murfreesboro, TN 37130.