Criminal prosecution is the process of bringing an individual to trial for violating a criminal law. Once an individual is accused of violating a criminal law, he or she is given the right to a fair trial by a jury of peers, which will determine if the defendant is innocent or guilty of any violation.
The Rules of Criminal Procedure are intended to provide for "the just determination of every criminal proceeding", and are construed to secure:
(a) simplicity in procedure;
(b) fairness in administration; and
(c) the elimination of:
(1) unjustifiable expense and delay; and
(2) unnecessary claims on the time of jurors.
A criminal case begins by either a charge being filed in Municipal Court or the grand jury returning an indictment. These are the following steps of a trial that determines if an individual is guilty of violating criminal law, also known as criminal prosecution.
During a preliminary examination, also referred to as a preliminary hearing, it is determined whether a felony crime has likely occurred. A defendant has the right to waive this process and take the case to the Grand Jury. If the defendant does not waive this process, then a judge may determine that enough evidence exists to take a case to trial.
Indictment and Information
If the judge decides it is worthy of being "bound over" to a Tennessee circuit court, then a grand jury will further examine the case to determine if they agree that enough evidence exists to send the case to trial. If it does, you will be "indicted", or formally charged.
A Grand Jury is composed of 13 randomly selected citizens. The prosecutor and Court Reporter are also present. The jury will determine if there is enough probable cause to believe that a suspect has violated criminal law. The defendant will testify before the Grand Jurors, and the case will proceed to the Common Pleas Court for arraignment if an indictment is issued. A defendant also has the right to waive this proceeding if he or she so chooses.
Arraignment and Pleas
An arraignment notifies the defendant of the charges he or she now faces, the possible bond and the date for a pretrial conference.
In Tennessee, most criminal cases are settled through plea agreements. These agreements can be in the best interest of both the defense and prosecution and will typically result in a lesser sentence. As your attorney, I will help you determine if a plea bargain is the right move for you.
The prosecuting attorney attempts to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant violated criminal law during the trial. A defendant also presents his or her side to prove that no violation has occurred. A trial must typically be held for a case within 90 days if the defendant is being held in custody and within 270 days if he or she is out on bond.
A pre-sentence investigation held by the Adult Parole Authority is conducted if a guilty verdict is found, or if a defendant is determined guilty by a plea resolution. The court also provides input of the appropriate sentencing.
If you have been convicted at trial, you will have the right to appeal both your conviction and sentence at the same time. You will have a limited window of time to file your notice of appeal with the sentencing court
For a complete list of the rules of criminal procedure in the state of Tennessee, view this page.