If you're facing criminal charges in Tennessee, you probably have a lot of questions.

Our Criminal Defense FAQs offer some basic information about the criminal justice process and answers to common questions we get from clients.

Contact us for personalized guidance and representation.

Q: What should I do if I'm pulled over and I have drugs in the car?

A: If you're pulled over by the police, it's important to remain calm and cooperate with the officer. Pull over as soon as it's safe to do so, turn off your engine, and roll down your window. Keep your hands visible on the steering wheel and wait for the officer to approach your vehicle.

When the officer speaks to you, be polite and respectful. Answer any questions truthfully, but keep your answers brief and to the point. You do not have to answer any questions beyond providing your name and identification, and you have the right to remain silent. If you have drugs in the car, even if they are prescription, do not mention them. Simply say NO.

If the officer asks to search your vehicle, you have the right to refuse. Politely tell the officer that you do not consent to a search. This may difficult and you may feel like the officer is pressuring you to say yes. Do not let the officer bully you, you have rights. If the officer searches your vehicle anyway, do not resist, but make sure to tell your criminal defense attorney about the search as soon as possible.

Do not ever consent to a search. Many officers are looking to pull people over just to try and get consent to search. The best thing you can do for your own defense is to just say no.

Q: What's the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

A: A misdemeanor is a less serious offense that typically carries a sentence of up to 11 months and 29 days. A felony is a more serious offense that carries a sentence of one year or more in prison.

Q: What should I do if I'm contacted by law enforcement about a crime?

A: If you have any involvement, know anyone who has any involvement, it is important you contact a criminal defense attorney before speaking with law enforcement. Anything you say can be used against you in court, so it's important to have legal representation.

If the crime in question is about you, you simply do not answer any questions. Tell the officer that you are busy and you will have to call him back, then contact a defense attorney to inquire about pre-charge representation.

If it is about someone else, you do not have to answer, but do not lie to them about someone else as you may be charged with a crime. Simply do not answer at all and contact a criminal defense attorney.

Q: What's the difference between criminal defense in General Sessions and in Circuit court in Tennessee?

A: General Sessions courts handle less serious criminal offenses, such as traffic violations and minor drug offenses, while Circuit court handles more serious criminal offenses, such as felony drug charges and violent crimes. General Sessions court also has limited jurisdiction, meaning it can only impose sentences up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, while Circuit court can impose longer sentences. In addition, Circuit court requires a more formal legal process, including a grand jury indictment and a trial by jury, while General Sessions court may proceed with a trial before a judge only.

What happens in General Sessions often decides the fate of the case, get an attorney for sessions.

Q: What is a preliminary hearing?

A: A preliminary hearing is a court proceeding that takes place after a person has been arrested and charged with a crime. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for the judge to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant probably committed it. During the hearing, the prosecutor presents evidence and witnesses to support the charges, and the defense has the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses and challenge the evidence. If the judge finds that there is probable cause, the case will be bound over to the grand jury or to the trial court for further proceedings.

Q: Should I waive my preliminary hearing?

A: It's generally not advisable to waive your preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is an important opportunity for your criminal defense attorney to evaluate the evidence against you and to question witnesses, which can help build a stronger defense strategy. In addition, by holding a preliminary hearing, you are able to "marry the officer to the record," meaning that the officer or witnesses' testimonies are recorded while their memory is fresh and before any inconsistencies or errors may arise. Furthermore, if the judge finds that there is no probable cause at the preliminary hearing, the charges against you may be dismissed. If you're facing criminal charges and have questions about the preliminary hearing process, it's important to consult with a criminal defense attorney who can advise you on the best course of action in your case.

There are certain situations where you may decide to waive it, such as for a bond reduction or if you believe the main witness will not show up for trial a year later in Circuit Court. However, we believe that the right to a preliminary hearing heavily outweighs a bond reduction, and banking on a witness not showing is no defense at all.

Q: What happens if a witness doesn't show up to court?

A: If a witness fails to appear in court as ordered, the judge may issue a subpoena to compel their attendance. If the witness still fails to appear, the judge may hold them in contempt of court, which can result in fines or even imprisonment. In some cases, the prosecution may be allowed to introduce the witness's prior testimony into evidence or to use other evidence to prove their case, but this can depend on the specific circumstances of the case and the rules of evidence in your jurisdiction. If the victim is a witness and fails to appear in court, this can impact the prosecution's ability to prove their case, but it does not necessarily mean that the case will be dismissed. The prosecutor may be able to proceed with the case if there is other evidence to support the charges.

Banking on a witness or victim not showing up to court is no defense at all. Different jurisdictions treat them differently as well. The criminal justice system in Davidson County sees so many cases that they are more likely to be dismissed, while a smaller county like Rutherford County may spend more time trying to track the witness down.

Q: Can I own a gun if I have a criminal conviction in Tennessee?

A: Under federal law, felony and domestic violence convictions can result in restrictions on gun ownership. Tennessee law also prohibits individuals with certain types of convictions, such as domestic assault, from possessing firearms. Additionally, individuals who are subject to certain types of court orders, such as orders of protection, may be prohibited from owning firearms. It's important to consult with a criminal defense attorney to understand your specific situation and potential legal options.

Q: What is expungement, and can I get my criminal record expunged in Tennessee?

A: Yes, you may be able to get your criminal record expunged in Tennessee, and you may not need an attorney to do it. In fact, the process of expungement is free in Tennessee, and you can start by contacting the clerk's office in your county.

In Tennessee, certain individuals may be eligible for expungement if they meet certain criteria, such as having completed their sentence and not having any subsequent convictions. The charge you are seeking to expunge may also be the only conviction on your record, with some exceptions.

If you are confident in your eligibility and comfortable navigating the process on your own, you can contact the clerk's office in your county to get started. In some counties, such as Davidson County, the process is streamlined, though you will need to appear in person to sign.

Learn more about the expungement process in Tennessee

Q: What is a proffer, and why is it important to consult an attorney before agreeing to one?

A: A proffer is a written or verbal statement made by a defendant to the prosecution or law enforcement in exchange for potential immunity or leniency in a criminal case. Essentially, a proffer is a way for a defendant to provide information to the prosecution without the risk of that information being used against them in court.

Proffers can be a powerful tool in a criminal case, but they can also be dangerous if not handled properly. If you are considering making a proffer to the prosecution or law enforcement, it is absolutely essential that you consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney first.

Q: I've been arrested and have a bond hearing in the morning, what should I do?

A: One of the most important things to remember is that you should not discuss your case or the circumstances of your arrest with anyone other than your attorney. This includes the judge, the prosecutor, and even other inmates. If you talk about your case at a bond hearing, some judges will allow the prosecutor a free shot at you and you can ruin your chance of a favorable outcome.

Instead, focus on presenting yourself in the most favorable light possible. Be prepared to discuss your ties to the community, such as your involvement in local organizations, your employment history, and your family and friends who may be able to provide support. Also be prepared to discuss your criminal history, including any prior convictions or failures to appear in court.

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