Tennessee Criminal Procedure

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The Tennessee criminal procedure is no different from that of other states, a criminal matter is initiated against an individual the minute he is arrested or a warrant is issued in his name. Although the process may vary from one geographical division of the state to another, the general steps of how a case proceeds through the criminal justice system are almost the same.

Arrest and citation: A warrant while preferred may not always be handy when an accused has to be booked. For this reason, peace officers have been granted the authority to take a person into custody merely on the basis of probable cause when a judicial arrest order is not available.

The case against a person starts with a custodial detention if he is arrested from the scene of the crime or while in the act or with a citation. If a warrant is issued against the accused, he/she will be arrested; however, in case of citation, the defendant will be ordered to appear at a tribunal or at a specific law enforcement office where he can be fingerprinted and photographed. These details are added to the Tennessee justice system database.

Arraignment: The next step in the criminal process is the initial appearance. As the name suggests, this is the first time that the defendant is brought before the magistrate. The physical presence of the accused is not a mandate at this stage as people who have been committed to police custody often attend such court proceedings via video conferencing. The arraignment is held before a magistrate and the purpose of this session is to:

  • Grant bail if appropriate
  • Notify the defendant of the charges being levied against him
  • Advise the accused of his rights under Tennessee laws
  • Schedule the next court session

Often a formal plea of guilty or not guilty may be entered into at this stage. It is imperative that a lawyer be present from the side of the defendant at the arraignment hearing.

The Preliminary Hearing: If it's a felony that has occurred, a preliminary hearing will be held in addition to the initial appearance. In this session the judge will study the evidence held by the prosecution and decide if the case has enough merit to be moved forward to the trial stage.

Further examination: A Grand Jury further deliberates on the case to ensure that it is worthy of being forwarded to a Tennessee circuit court. The 13 member jury panel hears the prosecution lawyers but rarely ever speak to the attorneys representing the defendant. If the evidence is adequate, the accused is formally indicted or charged.

Second arraignment round:In felony cases, a second arraignment hearing is also held where the judge once again reviews the bail granted to the defendant and informs him of the charges being filed against him.

What follows after these court room sessions is a possible plea agreement if the defense agrees to plead guilty in exchange for lower charges. Pretrial motions are also held before the matter is heard by the court to ascertain that both sides are given a fair chance to ensure that they are prepared for the proceedings.

The trial: The trial can go on for weeks and opening statements from both sides mark the beginning of the case; this is followed by the presentation of evidence, witness cross examination and finally the closing arguments. If the prosecution manages to prove guilt beyond doubt, the jury will find the accused guilty. However, this is where their role ends as the judge holds the authority to sentence the offender.


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