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What to Expect After Being Charged with a Crime


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 severe 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.

A criminal offense may begin either by receiving a citation or by arrest. Individuals cited for a criminal offense or offenses are generally permitted to be released following receipt of the citation. However, 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 they will be booked (processed), and a bail amount is set. If bail is posted, the individual is released after being given a court date. If bail is not posted, the individual remains in custody until their 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 a “ROR” or being released on recognizance, meaning the individual promises to appear in court at the scheduled time.

Many criminal cases begin in a 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 they want 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, to be resolved.

Transfer cases from general sessions court to a circuit or criminal court can be done in one of two ways. First, every criminal defendant who has a criminal case in general sessions court is entitled to have a hearing, known as a preliminary hearing. The general sessions judge is required to decide whether there is probable cause for the case to be transferred to a circuit or criminal court. If the general sessions court does not find probable cause, the judge must dismiss the case.

Some counties have circuit courts; some have criminal courts; 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 the circuit or criminal court, every person accused of a crime has a right to have a grand jury review their case to determine whether there is a basis for the government to prosecute. Suppose the grand jury finds probable cause for the criminal case to be prosecuted. In that case, an indictment (a charging instrument) is issued, and the defendant will be prosecuted in the circuit or criminal court.

A pending case in the circuit or criminal court can be resolved by plea agreement (plea bargain just as in general sessions court), bench trial, or jury trial. A significant difference between these courts and general sessions courts is that an individual cannot have a jury trial in the general sessions court. In addition, 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 how a criminal case is handled in Tennessee state courts. There are exceptions to this process that are not addressed in this blog. There are essential issues that must be addressed at each stage in the criminal justice system. It is critical to have an attorney who has experience handling cases at every level of the criminal justice system. Murfreesboro criminal attorneys at Santel | Garner have significant experience defending cases in Tennessee state courts. 

Tommy Santel is a co-founding partner of Santel | Garner. Tommy is a former government prosecutor. In addition, he is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 General Civil Mediator. Tommy’s practice areas include criminal defense and civil litigation.

This blog is made available by Santel | Garner , for educational purposes only and to provide general information and a general overview of the law, not provide specific legal advice. Using this blog and website, you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and Santel | Garner . This blog and website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.