In Tennessee, there are 31 separate judicial districts, but all criminal cases follow a similar path after the grand jury issues a true bill which results in an indictment. An indictment is the charging instrument which is essentially nothing more than an accusation. It should be noted that a presentment is an alternative charging instrument, but it is treated in much the same manner as an indictment.
If you have been indicted, your first court appearance will be in the Circuit or Criminal Court for the county in which the crime is alleged to have occurred. Some jurisdictions have Criminal Courts with Judges who only preside over criminal cases while others have Circuit Courts with Judges who hear both civil and criminal matters.
Typically, the first court appearance is for the purpose of conducting an arraignment which is when you will enter a formal plea of “guilty” or “not guilty”. Even if you seek to later reach a plea agreement with the State, your attorney will likely advise you to enter a plea of “not guilty” at the arraignment so that he or she can fully analyze the case in order to protect your rights.
After arraignment, the defense will generally submit a request for discovery which is the process by which your attorney will obtain information about the charges against you. After receiving a request for discovery, the State is required by law to provide certain information which will allow you and your attorney to prepare your defense. Once your attorney has had an opportunity to review the information provided by the State and speak with you in more detail, a decision will be made as to whether there are any legal challenges to be made in a motion before the court.
At almost any point in this process, it is possible that the State will extend an offer of settlement. Your attorney will discuss any offers made by the State and whether it will be to your benefit to accept the offer. Ultimately, you will make the decision about whether to accept the offer or proceed to trial, but your attorney will provide advice and counsel to assist you in making this important decision. Your attorney can also seek to negotiate different terms of settlement by way of a counteroffer which may involve pointing out weaknesses in the State’s case.
Every case is different, and there are a number of variables to consider. Therefore, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney in order to protect your rights and prepare a quality defense. The attorneys at Stephens Law, PLC are former prosecutors with extensive experience in criminal litigation and are ready to assist you with your defense.