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What are the Stages of a Criminal Case in Tennessee?

April 07, 2024

What are the Stages of a Criminal Case in Tennessee?

If you have been accused of a crime, you are probably wondering about the stages of a criminal case. Many criminal defendants have no idea of court procedures and how long it will take for their case to resolve.

The foremost question on your mind may be, “How many times will I need to appear in court?” Not every case is the same, and procedures may change based on your specific offense.

If you are facing criminal allegations, our Nashville criminal defense lawyers are here to ensure that your case resolves efficiently, saving you time and expensive court fees.

Bail/Bond Hearing

Once you have been arrested, the court will hold a bail hearing. Bail is an amount of money that is paid to ensure that you will appear in court as promised.

Tennessee Code § 40-11-105 gives a committing magistrate, a judge of the circuit or criminal court, or a clerk of the circuit or criminal court the authority to set bail. The clerk is only allowed to set bail when a judge is not present. All arrestees are eligible for bail except anyone who has committed a capital offense.

Initial Court Date

Most cases begin in General Sessions Court. Depending on the nature of the case and the facts, your attorney may be able to obtain a full dismissal at the first or second appearance. Alternatively, you may be able to receive a compromise plea agreement to resolve your  case without it going further into the process.

Preliminary Hearing

If you are unable to obtain a dismissal or an agreeable plea offer at the initial court date, you would be entitled to have a preliminary hearing. Also known as a probable cause hearing, as the name suggests, a judge will determine if probable cause has been established in your case. If probable cause is established, then a grand jury will hear your case. If probable cause is not present, the charges against you will be dropped.

Grand Jury

A grand jury consists of a panel of thirteen citizens. The grand jury has the duty of deciding if there is sufficient evidence to charge you for the crime. The defendant is not usually present during a grand jury process and there is generally not an opportunity to object or present evidence. The grand jury will return a presentment or indictment charging you with the crime.


An arraignment is your first scheduled appearance in the second level of court, known as Criminal Court. At this time, the indictment will be read, and you will receive a copy of it. If you have hired counsel, your Nashville criminal defense lawyer will advise you on what to say. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will assign you a public defender. If you have already obtained counsel, your appearance can be waived.


The State is required to provide you copies of all evidence they intend to use against you. You are also required to provide the State with the evidence you would be using at trial. 

Status Hearing

Your defense attorney and the prosecution will need to report to the court on certain dates, known as status hearings. This gives each side the time they need to prepare for trial.

Plea Deal

 During the pre-trial stages, it is possible for the prosecutor and criminal defense attorney to negotiate a settlement and avoid going to trial. In taking a plea deal, the district attorney may agree to drop certain charges or recommend a more lenient sentence to the court. A judge always reserves the right to accept or reject the agreement.

If no plea agreement is reached, your case will continue to trial.


If a plea agreement is not reached, a trial date will be scheduled. Both sides present opening statements, and then the prosecution and defense will present evidence and call witnesses to the stand. The burden is on the state to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Once both sides have presented evidence and made closing arguments, the jury will enter deliberations. The jury will find you guilty or not guilty. In criminal trials, the verdict must be unanimous. If you are acquitted, you are free to go. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict, a mistrial is declared, and the state may bring the case back to trial again.


If a plea offer contains a specific sentence, then the judge would simply impose that sentence. If the plea offer does not contain a sentence or you are convicted at trial, the judge will decide your punishment. The judge may sentence you to prison or probation depending on the offense and your criminal history.  Some offenses can be eligible for only a few months of probation in a best case scenario, while other offenses have mandatory prison terms.


If you are found guilty, you have the right to appeal the decision to a higher court. In Tennessee, you would appeal to the Tennessee Court Criminal of Appeals. If the Appeals Court determines that an error was made at trial, your case may be sent back to the lower court (remanded), or your charges may be dismissed. You may further appeal that decision to the Tennessee Supreme Court. However, their review is discretionary and they may not decide to hear your case, in which case the decision of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals would stand.

Contact a Nashville Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

The criminal process is convoluted, and you are doing yourself a disservice if you try to represent yourself. If you are facing charges for a misdemeanor or felony offense, you need a defense lawyer who knows your rights. Contact us today online by filling out our online form to schedule your free consultation.