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General Sessions Court

In Tennessee, there are two levels of court in each county that hear criminal cases – the General Sessions Court and Criminal Court (called Circuit Court in some counties).

After being arrested and charged with a criminal offense, most cases begin with a court date in general sessions court. This first court date is called an “arraignment.” At this first court date, the general sessions court judge will want to know whether you have an attorney retained. By partnering with our firm, you can be assured that one of our attorneys will appear with you in court and help you navigate this process.

At this stage of the case, our attorneys will talk to you about what happened and are able to begin independently investigating the evidence in the case. This helps us understand your side of the story and determine what evidence the prosecution might try to use against you. It also enables us to identify legal issues that could impact the prosecution’s case against you.

A general sessions court judge has limited jurisdiction. A general sessions court judge does not have jurisdiction to have a jury trial, which can only occur in criminal court. A sessions court judge can conduct a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, the State does not have to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, it must only prove that there is “probable cause” that you committed a criminal offense. Probable cause is a much lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but it is still the State’s burden to prove. At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution must present its witnesses to testify under oath and your attorney can cross-examine them to identify problems with the State’s case.