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DUI Legal Process in Tennessee

Arrest- A police officer must have probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has or will occur to lawfully arrest you. You will then be taken into custody to be booked (fingerprinted, photographed etc.)

Arraignment or First Appearance: After the defendant has posted bond, the first court appearance will usually be scheduled for two to six weeks from the initial arrest.  The purpose of the arraignment is to inform you of the charges being made against you, your rights, and the possible penalties you face. In Tennessee, the arraignment usually serves as the defendant’s first opportunity to plea their case. If the case cannot be resolved at this stage, the case will be set for trial in the General Sessions Court.

General Sessions Court: General Sessions Court has jurisdiction over most DUI cases. However, this court cannot resolve felony DUI cases unless the felony charge is reduced to a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor DUI cases are resolved in this court in one of three ways: a preliminary hearing, a trial without a jury, or a plea agreement. During the preliminary hearing, the state bears the burden of proving that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the crime he/she is being charged with. Probable cause means “more likely than not.” If probable cause is found the case will be presented to the grand jury.

Grand Jury: The grand jury is comprised of thirteen people who meet to determine whether probable cause exists. The only evidence the grand jury hears is from the prosecutor’s witness: the defendant is usually not allowed to present evidence. Because of the one-sided nature of the evidence presented, probable cause is usually found to exist.

Trial Court: The next step in the DUI process is the trial court. Twelve members from the community will serve as jurors for your criminal case.

  • Pre-Trial motions: If certain issues need to be resolved prior to trial, it can be done so by filing motions with the court. Some common motions filed are motion for discovery, motion to produce and preserve evidence and motion to suppress evidence.

Trial: This can take place at either the General Sessions Level or Trial Court. Both the prosecution and the defense will make opening statements, the state will present its case and put on evidence of the crime you have committed. Your attorney will be able to cross-examine the witness, and will then have the opportunity to call witnesses and present evidence. Finally, closing statements will commence. After the trial has concluded, the jury or the court will render a decision. If you are found guilty, the judge will hand down sentencing. If instead a verdict of not guilty is found, the defendant is free and the charges are dropped.

The other possibility during trial is to enter into a plea bargain. Most cases in Tennessee are resolved in this way. It is important to note that the judge is not required to honor negotiations between the defense and the state; however, a judge will usually go with the state’s recommendation 99% of the time.

Sentencing: The court will impose sentencing after a conviction at trial.  The court will ask if the state has any recommendations for sentencing. Again, more likely than not, the judge will follow the states recommendations.

Appeal: In Tennessee, DUI convictions may be appealed so long as such an appeal is made in a timely manner.


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