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Your Nashville Criminal Case: The Basics

Saddle up, partner. You're facing a criminal case in Nashville after a night of drinking and barroom brawls at the honky tonks. Boy, is your wife gonna be mad this time. You sit in your cell at the Criminal Justice Center, humming the tune to Elvis's "Jailhouse Rock," contemplating what your next is going to be. Should you hire a lawyer? Is this going be charged as a misdemeanor or felony? Are you going to have to go to court?

Read on to learn more. FindLaw has compiled general information about what to expect in most cases if you or a loved one is facing a Nashville criminal case.

The Arrest

Getting arrested in Davidson County is the start of your case. You'll have been arrested by one of these law enforcement members: the Nashville Police Department, the Davidson County Sheriff's Department, or the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

The men and women in uniform have to follow a certain set of rules and procedures during the investigation. You should be read your Miranda rights. You've heard the words. "You have the right to remain silent." Then, the police have two options: take you to jail for booking or release you with a promise to appear at a later date.

Posting A Bond

There's two ways you can leave jail-- you'll either be released on your own recognizance or have to post a bond. A bond is money that you have to pay to the courts in order to be released from jail pending trial. You usually have to put up 10% of the total amount of bail the judge sets in your case in order to get out.

Time Limit

After you are arrested, the police will submit your case to the Davidson County prosecutor for review. The prosecutor will decide what the charges against you will be.

The prosecutor doesn't have forever to think about it -- with the exception of crimes punishable by life in prison or capital punishment. The prosecutor doesn't have a time limit for those crimes.

For most felonies, the time limit to charge you ranges from two to eight years depending on the class of felony. For most misdemeanors, the time limit is one year.


Your first court appearance is called an arraignment. This will happen at the Nashville courthouse. Yes, it's a little like you've seen on television. A judge or magistrate is in a black robe, staring down at you. It's perfectly normal to feel intimidated. Courtrooms are not the most inviting places.

The judge will advise you of your constitutional rights, give you a copy of the charges against you and ask if you wish to be referred to the Davidson County public defender. You can also hire your own Nashville criminal defense attorney. You will also enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. The court will then set future court dates.

Nashville Felony Charges

Getting arrested and charged with a Nashville felony is serious business. A conviction can lead to the loss or limitation of certain constitutional rights, including the right to vote, and to right to own or possess a firearm.

There are several classes (A-E) of felony crimes, with punishment ranging from 1 year to life in prison, or capital punishment.

Anyone charged with a felony, should at least consider speaking to a qualified criminal defense attorney.

Preliminary Hearing and Second Arraignment for Felonies

After the initial arraignment, your case will go through a preliminary hearing where the judge will listen to the prosecution and determine if enough evidence exists for the case to go to trial.

If you are "bound over for trial," your case will have a second arraignment at the circuit court level. This again, is where the circuit court judge will inform you of the charges against you and review bail.

Next, your case will be set for a pretrial conference.

Plea Bargain

At the pretrial conference, you might be able to enter into a plea bargain. That means you will be asked to give up your right to have a jury trial. You will then enter a plea of guilty or no contest to at least one of the charges. Your case will be referred to the probation department for a "presentence report," and continued for sentencing


If you go to trial, the prosecution must prove to a jury that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Remember, you can't be compelled to testify. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will sentence you.

Nashville Misdemeanors

Let's talk about misdemeanors. They are less serious than felonies, but remember, a conviction or guilty plea can have repercussions beyond the courtroom including immigration and future employment consequences.

There are 3 classifications of misdemeanor criminal offenses in Tennessee: Class A, B, and C. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious, with a maximum punishment of 11 months, 29 days in jail. Class B misdemeanors carry up to 6 months in jail. Finally, Class C misdemeanors have a maximum jail sentence of 30 days.

Common Nashville misdemeanors include assault, prostitution crimes, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, theft and a variety of other criminal offenses.

In a misdemeanor case, you won't have a preliminary hearing. You case will simply have a pretrial conference and, if you can't enter into a plea agreement, you'll have a trial.


If you are charged with a crime having a legal professional on your side gives you a much better chance of receiving a lower penalty. Consider speaking to a criminal defense attorney about your case and whether to plea or go to trial.

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