For those who have been arrested or received criminal citations for the first time, going to court can be a scary thought. Simply not knowing what will happen or understanding how the courts work will cause you stress.
What happens after I am arrested/receive a citation for a criminal offense in Tennessee?
After receiving a citation or being arrested for a criminal offense, you will be booked. When booked, the arresting agency will gather information about you, including your birthdate, home address and will take you photographs and fingerprints.
If you are arrested, the booking process will begin as soon as you arrive at the jail.
If you receive a criminal citation, the booking process will either occur before or on your court date. Each county in Tennessee is different as to the requirements of when you must be booked. Many counties require that you be booked within 10 days of receiving the criminal citation.
Am I going to jail on my first court date?
No. The first court date is typically referred to as your initial appearance or your arraignment. On that day the judge will ask you whether you have an attorney and will set your second court appearance (the ‘settlement date’). With the exception of a few Class B and C Misdemeanor offenses, it will be the next court date before you will have an opportunity to settle your case.
The judge will also ask whether you intend to hire an attorney or whether you would like an attorney appointed. If you request a court appointed attorney they will require you to fill out an affidavit of indigence to determine whether you qualify for an appointed attorney. They may also require you to perform public service work or pay an administrative fee for a court appointed attorney.
In some counties, the judge may ask you at your initial appearance whether you plead guilty or not guilty. It is never advisable to plead guilty without an attorney.
What happens when I go to court for the second time in Tennessee?
After your first appearance in court, your case will be given a second court date which will be for the purposes of settlement discussions. On that day your attorney will have an opportunity to speak with the District Attorney about the specifics of your criminal case. They will discuss the facts of the case and any defenses you may have to the charges. After discussing the case, the district attorney will extend a plea offer.
What happens if I don’t accept the plea offer?
If you refuse the offer by the district attorney you will have a preliminary hearing. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine whether it was likely a crime was committed, and whether it was likely you were the person that committed the crime. The burden is on the State, however most cases will be bound-over to the grand jury. If the judge finds that there is probable cause, they will also determine whether the bond that was set is still appropriate and could increase your bond amount.
You may also choose to bind your case over to the grand jury without a preliminary hearing; however that is not advisable for most cases.
What happens after my case is bound over to the grand jury?
In all likelihood, the grand jury will return an indictment and your arraignment date (or initial appearance) in either Circuit or Criminal Court will be set. The same process just described will essentially repeat itself, except that if you do not accept the plea offer by the district attorney, your case will be set for trial instead of a preliminary hearing.