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The Tennessee Felony Process



Tennessee felony offenders can face some harsh penalties for their crimes. Depending on the severity of the crime, those accused of a felony face multiple years in prison, fines, or a combination of both. Understanding the Tennessee felony process is important if you want to reduce your sentence or develop a strong defense strategy.

What is a Tennessee Felony?

The Tennessee legislature creates the states criminal code. The code defines what is a felony and what is a misdemeanor, and it also establishes the sentencing guidelines for various crimes.

According to Tennessee felony laws, the following crimes are felonies:

  • Burglary
  • Kidnapping
  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Arson

Felonies are also subcategorized based on severity. These subcategories are known as classes and range from class A-the most serious-to class E. For example, a class A felony conviction in Tennessee can result in up to 60 years in prison.

The Tennessee Felony Process Pre-Trial

Much happens to an alleged felon before the trial stage of a criminal case.

First, the police must investigate and arrest the alleged felony. Of course, if the officer witnesses the crime, no extensive investigation to make an arrest may be necessary. But in cases where the crime is not witnessed, police need to establish what is known as probable cause. Probable cause means that the officer has a good reason to believe you committed the crime.

To gather evidence, an investigator will rely on a court-issued warrant, which allows the officer to legally search your property. However, there are some situations where a warrant is not needed, such as when evidence is at risk of being destroyed or if you consent to a search.

Once the arrest is made, you will be told your rights. Specifically, you will have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to have an attorney appointed if you cannot afford one.

The right to remain silent is intended to prevent you from incriminating yourself. It allows you to refuse to answer questions from investigators and police.

The right to an attorney means you may have an attorney represent you throughout the criminal process. This includes the right to have your Tennessee criminal defense attorney present during questioning.

If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint you one. This type of lawyer is known as a public defender.

Within three days of your arrest, you will be called to court for your arraignment. This is your opportunity to enter your formal plea. In a Tennessee felony case, you may plead either guilty, no guilty, or no contest.

Guilty and not guilty are fairly self-explanatory pleas. If you plead guilty, you are saying you did the crime. If you plead not guilty, you are saying you didnt do it. No contest, on the other hand, means that you do not admit guilt but that you also do not dispute the facts of the case. This plea is usually used if there is a related civil lawsuit pending.

After the arraignment, the judge may set bail, which is an amount of money that you must deposit to be released from jail while trial is pending. In the case of certain crimes, bail may not be an option.

The Trial Process

When it comes to a Tennessee felony case, you have the right to a speedy trial; however, you may waive this right if you wish to better prepare your defense.

In addition, you also have the right to a jury trial. Once again, you may waive this right if you either choose to plead guilty or if you choose to have a bench trial, which means a trial with only a judge.

You and your criminal defense attorney may opt to enter into a plea agreement with the prosecution (the party attempting to convict you). A plea agreement is when you agree to plead guilty to lesser charges. In return, you get a lighter sentence, and everyone gets to bypass the trial.

If you have additional questions about the Tennessee felony process, you should consult a Tennessee criminal attorney who has experience with felony cases.