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Criminal Process Overview

Stages of the Criminal Justice Process

At Stephens, DiRado & Caviness, LLP, we understand that being investigated for or charged with a criminal offense can be life changing. You can find yourself thrown into an unfamiliar and complicated process that could have long-term consequences for yourself and those close to you. However, just because you have been charged with a criminal offense does not mean that you’re guilty or that you will be convicted. We have an in-depth knowledge of how the many stages of the criminal justice system work, and we know how to effectively advocate for you at each stage to reach the best outcome possible.

Below is a summary of the various stages of the criminal justice process and information about how we approach each of those stages. The sooner our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys can get involved and begin working on your case, the better. We are able to maximize our impact on the case by getting involved early and working quickly.

No matter what stage of the criminal justice process you are facing, our team of attorneys can help. Call us so that we can work with you to create a plan that protects you and your freedom.

Police Investigation and Pre-Charges

If you are facing a police investigation or the potential for criminal charges in a situation, it is a good idea to partner with one of our experienced attorneys from the beginning. There are times when people are contacted by the police because the police “just want to talk.” Most often, this happens when law enforcement believes the person is a suspect or person of interest in a crime, but the police are still investigating the case and aren’t ready to make an arrest yet.

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Arrest and Posting Bond

If you are arrested and charged with a criminal offense, the criminal justice process has formally started. The immediate next step is determining whether you can be released on bond or another kind of pre-trial supervision. Immediately after arrest, you will appear before a Magistrate Judge at the jail. The Magistrate Judge will inform you of the charges you’re facing and make a decision about whether you can be released pending the outcome of the case.

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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.

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Grand Jury Proceedings

After a preliminary hearing, if the general sessions court determines that there is probable cause for the case to move forward, then the case will be reviewed by a grand jury.

The grand jury is a group of people from the community who are called to grand jury duty. There are significant differences between the grand jury and a trial jury. The grand jury listens to the evidence in the case to determine whether probable cause exists. However, by law, the grand jury only hears the prosecution’s side of the evidence. Further, the meetings are private and neither you or your attorney will be present.

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Criminal Court

For most people, if your case continues through the criminal justice system, the second court you would encounter is the criminal court. In some counties in East Tennessee, the criminal court is called circuit court. In defending your case, criminal court is a continuation of general sessions court, but there are some differences in the procedures available in criminal court.

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Jury Trial

After any legal issues are litigated, and any negotiations with the prosecutor take place, the final step in criminal court is a jury trial. No one is ever required to take a case to trial, but there are times that a person’s innocence can only be proven by showing the case to twelve neutral members of the community. At a jury trial, the State has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You have the right to remain silent and do not have to testify or present evidence. However, based on the facts of your case, you might choose to testify or present any of the evidence your attorney discovered while investigating your case.

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If you are convicted of a criminal offense after a trial, that does not mean that the process is over or that the conviction is necessarily final. Often, there are legal errors that occur during a trial that can impact the outcome of the verdict. You may have had a trial where your attorney did not make proper objections or did not properly prepare for the trial and that lead to your conviction. There are also situations where your attorney was prepared and correctly handled the trial, but the trial judge made incorrect legal rulings that unfairly and negatively impacted your case.

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