Whether you were pulled over for a DUI driving down I-40, caught pocketing a bottle of sake at Sunrise Supermarket, or got into a fight with the jerk who was getting a little too close to your girl at The Crown & Goose, you're now on the receiving end of Tennessee's vision of "justice." Being charged with a crime is a frightening experience, if for no other reason than you don't know what to expect. But don't give up hope; although the process of a criminal case is complicated, FindLaw has translated the lawyerspeak into common sense in this article about typical Knoxville criminal cases.
Find a Lawyer
First and foremost, it is generally a bad idea to speak to the police if you've been arrested. You may could be coerced into admitting guilt, and your statements will be used to impeach your credibility should you testify at trial.
Listen to the Knoxville police officer's Miranda warnings and understand your right to remain silent and speak to an attorney. Know that you can use your phone call to contact a relative who can find an experienced criminal defense lawyer and post bail. Criminal cases are incredibly technical, and each element of a crime must be met before you can be found guilty. Furthermore, police are strictly bound by the U.S. Constitution, especially when they search or seize someone. Lawyers can often see technical errors or deficiencies with the case that an average Knoxvillian will not. If your income is fairly low, you could try requesting a public defender from the Knox County Community Law Office.
Once you are arrested you'll be taken to either the Knoxville police department at 800 Howard Baker Jr. Avenue, the Knoxville County Jail at 400 Main Street (also the courthouse), or the Sheriff's Detention Center at 5001 Maloneyville Road. They'll ask you some biographic questions, which you are required to answer despite your right to remain silent. You'll then get to spend some time in an uncomfortable holding cell until either your preliminary hearing or when you post bail.
If you cannot afford bail, try contacting a local bail bondsman who will loan you the full bail amount, typically in exchange for 10%.
If you were able to post bail, your initial court appearance will be the bonded arraignment. At this court appearance, you may either appear with your lawyer or inform the court of your inability to afford counsel. If you indicate a desire to apply for appointed counsel, the judge will give you a form called an "Affidavit of Indigency." This document gives the judge sufficient information about your financial circumstances to determine whether you qualify for appointed counsel.
If you do not post bail your initial court appearance is your preliminary hearing, sometimes referred to as a probable cause hearing. This hearing, and all future court appearances, will take place at the City County Building at 400 Main Street. If your criminal case is a misdemeanor, which is a charge that carries less than one year of jail time, you will be assigned to the Sessions Court. If you are charged will a felony your case will move to the big time Circuit Court.
The sole purpose of this hearing is for a judge to determine whether or not probable cause exist; that is, probable cause to believe an offense was committed and probable cause to believe you committed that offense. This legal standard is different from what the State must prove at jury trial, so don't get frustrated when your lawyer doesn't let you or any other witnesses to testify. Testifying at this point is basically showing the cards in your hand to the prosecutor, with no discernable advantage. You do, however, get a sneak peak at the prosecutor's evidence and can use this information to plan your trial strategy.
The Grand Jury is the third stage of criminal proceedings. A Grand Jury is a group of thirteen random people who meet in secret, without you or your attorney's knowledge or attendance. Like the judge at prelim, the Grand Jury makes the same "probable cause" determination. The Grand Jury will hear only from the individuals subpoenaed District Attorney, so it should come as no surprise that the Grand Jury returns indictments against nearly everyone charged with a criminal violation.
It is important to understand that the grand jury is not bound by the charges that were initially brought against you at preliminary hearing. In other words, the grand jury can increase the severity of the charges against you or add new charges altogether. Once the Grand Jury returns an indictment against you, you will be notified by mail when and where to appear in for your arraignment.
Arraignment is your first appearance before a Criminal Court judge, instead of a Sessions Court judge. This new judge will (again) ask you a series of questions about your ability to hire a lawyer, and appoint a public defender if necessary. The judge will then advise you of the charges you now face after the Grand Jury has issued an indictment, and set your case on his or her docket.
You'll have an opportunity to enter a plea at arraignment, though generally it is advisable to have a lawyer review your case for insufficient evidence, constitutional violations and affirmative defenses before you plead guilty.
Finally your case will go to trial unless you either entered a plea bargain or got the case dismissed. An impartial jury will be selected and each attorney will have a chance to present evidence and argue how it applies to your guilt. A conviction must be unanimous, while even one "not guilty" will result in a mistrial. Read more about what to expect at trial in FindLaw's section on criminal trials. If all of this sounds daunting and confusing, you may wish to contact a local criminal defense attorney to help sort out your particular situation.
Contact a qualified attorney.