One of the most difficult things about going to court for the first time is not knowing what to expect. Below you will find some basic court information that should be helpful in answering many of your questions. Other questions you may have can be answered by a member of the District Attorneys staff when you come to Court.
If you are a victim of a crime, a lawyer from the District Attorney’s Office will help you (you do not need to hire a private attorney). The State of Tennessee has provided lawyers responsible for the prosecution of those who violate the criminal laws of this state. If you were a victim of a violent crime, a Victim Witness Coordinator will also be in touch with you prior to your court date to answer questions and provide support through this system.
Appropriate Attire for Court
The Judges are now enforcing a dress code. All individuals entering the courtroom shall be dressed appropriately, clean, and neat. Dress that is disturbing and distracting in court is inappropriate. This is a court of law and the clothes and appearance must be safe and not disruptive to the judicial process.
- Skirts, skorts, and shorts must reach and extend below the fingertips.
- All pants must be worn at the waist; no sagging or low riding pants.
- Undershirts and tank tops, if worn, must be worn with another “cover up” shirt. Shoulders, backs, chests, and midriffs must be covered.
- All shirts, with the exception of sweaters, sweatshirts, or vests must be tucked into pants, skirts, or shorts, including athletic jerseys.
- Appropriate footwear must be worn at all times. No flip-flops or house shoes.
- Inapporpriate head coverings such as bandanas, scarves, sweatbands, caps, do-rags, or hairnets are not to be worn or seen. Hoods of lightweight garments or sweatshirts may not be pulled over the head.
- Clothing that advertises substances (drugs, alcohol, tobacco products) or language or writing that is otherwise inappropriate or offensive (sex, profanity, racial, or ethnic slurs, gang related attire, etc) may not be worn. Tattoos that display drugs, sex, alcohol, or tobacco products must not be seen at anytime.
- Clothing that is intentionally torn in inappropriate places is not allowed.
- For security reasons, chains, spiked accessories, and oversized jewelry are not permissable.
If you are dressed inappropriately, a Judge may not allow you in the courtroom.
There are three main divisions of the Criminal Justice System:
II. General Sessions Court
II. The Grand Jury
III. Criminal Court
I. General Sessions Court
- In General Sessions Court, cases are either settled or sent (bound over) to the Grand Jury.
- A case can get to the Grand Jury (by being bound over) after a preliminary hearing. At a preliminary hearing, the Judge listens to witnesses and decides if the case should go to the Grand Jury.
- The defendant can send the case to the Grand Jury if he waives or gives up his right to a preliminary hearing.
- Sometimes a defendant agrees to plead guilty without the case going to the Grand Jury. The defendant can do this by agreeing to a Criminal Information
- A Criminal Information bypasses the Grand Jury and sends the case directly to a Criminal Court where the defendant will plead guilty.
II. Grand Jury
- The Grand Jury is a panel of thirteen citizens who determine if there is enough evidence to show that the defendant committed a crime.
- If there is enough evidence, the case is sent to the Criminal Court for a trial or guilty plea.
- The Grand Jury does not decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
- The Grand Jury hearing is secret, and the defendant and his lawyer are not present,
- If you have to come and testify, you will be notified.
Your case will probably be heard by the Grand Jury within 2 to 5 months of your General Sessions court date.
III. Criminal Court
- Criminal Court is where your case will finally be decided.
- Your case may be set in Court several times before it is over.
- These settings may include arraignment, motions, settlement or trial.
- The District Attorney’s office will let you know when you need to be present.
This is when the defendant finds out what crime he has been charged with by the Grand Jury. Your appearance is not necessary.
Sometimes the District Attorney or the defense attorney needs to have the Judge decide a particular point of law or procedure. If you are needed, you will be notified.
Cases are set in Court to give the District Attorney and defense attorney a chance to talk about the case and see if the defendant wants to plead guilty. Most defendants plead guilty to some crime. This is called plea agreement.
- If the defendant does not agree to a settlement, there will be a trial.
- Your input and wishes concerning a plea agreement are important and will be taken into consideration before an offer is made.
- Cases are usually settled or set for trial within 6 to 12 months of your General Sessions court date.
- Your Assistant District Attorney and the Victim Witness Coordinator will talk with you about the trial process and when you need to come to court.
- Trials begin at the first of the week and can last for several days.
- There are 4 possible outcomes of the trial: Guilty, Not Guilty, Hung Jury or Mistrial.
The defendant is found guilty of the charge(s) and will be sentenced at a later date
The defendant is found not guilty of the charge(s) and is free to go.
When the members of the jury cannot agree on a verdict. All the jurors must agree on the same verdict. The case may go to trial again later or be settled with a plea agreement.
If an error occurs during the trial, a judge may declare a mistrial prior to a verdict being rendered which means the case may have to be tried again at a later date.