The laws of the state of Tennessee are found in the Tennessee Code Annotated, and criminal laws and procedures are listed in Titles 39 and 40 of the Code. Tennessee law separates criminal offenses into either misdemeanors or felonies. Within Title 40, Chapter 35 of the Tennessee Code are the specific punishments for these offenses. Misdemeanors are punishable up to 11 months and 29 days and are considered less serious than felonies, although any criminal offense should be taken seriously and handled properly. Felonies are more serious than misdemeanors, and in some situations much more serious. The minimum punishment is one year. Major felonies carry a mandatory prison sentence.
For a first-time offender charged with a misdemeanor in Tennessee, one of the main concerns will be if the charge is going on their record permanently, and will they will go to jail if convicted. The answer is generally no. Tennessee law allows all but one kind of misdemeanor to be removed from a first-time offender’s record, and without a jail sentence. These include domestic assault, underage drinking, shoplifting, weapons possession, vandalism, and simple drug possession. These may all be removed, or diverted, from a first offender’s record after completing a period of probation and paying all required court costs and fines. A Tennessee criminal attorney can help you do this.
The one misdemeanor that cannot be diverted is driving under the influence. Not only does DUI carry a long-lasting conviction, it also carries mandatory jail time of at the minimum 48 hours. First-offenders who are convicted of DUI in Tennessee will have their record marked forever, possibly excluding them from certain jobs. The law does not allow you to expunge or seal the conviction later on. It is public record, obtainable for anyone to see. If you have been charged with driving under the influence, contact a Tennessee DUI defense lawyer to review your case. There may be ways to challenge the state’s evidence and avoid a long-lasting conviction.
Felonies, as mentioned, are the most serious crimes. Tennessee felonies can truly be broken down into two categories: non-violent and violent. Violent felonies are reserved for the worst situations, such as murder or many sex crimes. Non-violent felonies carry less harsh punishment, and generally include character and drug crimes.
Some examples of non-violent felonies include burglary (whether of a business, a motor means, or a home), theft of character over $500, and possession of controlled substances with intent to manufacture, deliver, or sell. As with misdemeanors, first-time offenders charged with felonies such as these would be entitled to have the charge diverted. The one major difference is that the punishment and fines will be greater. Tennessee felonies carry a minimum 1 year sentence, and some diversion-eligible offenses go up to six years. Qualified first-offender felons can nevertheless be placed on probation with the goal of having the charge expunged, but it could take some time.
Whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony in Tennessee you’re going to need all the help you can get, and that includes having a Tennessee criminal defense lawyer on your side. Your attorney can analyze what options there are for keeping the charge from going on your record, and can work to minimize the punishment and get you the best outcome possible. Criminal charges bring all sorts of long-term, unpleasant consequences, and the more serious the charge the more unpleasant it could be. With the right approach, though, you stand the chance of being legally restored to the position you had before already being arrested.