Criminal Defense FAQs
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At Casey, Simmons & Bryant, PLLC, we offer strong representation for clients accused or arrested for crimes throughout Jackson and the surrounding areas of Tennessee. With more than 30 years of combined legal experience, we have practiced in courts across the state and are familiar with the actions and behavior of local judges and law enforcement.
Q: What happens at a preliminary hearing? Do I need to have one?
A: Typically felony cases will result in a preliminary hearing, because the lower court cannot dispose of felony charges. At the preliminary hearing, the district attorney is required to put on proof to establish that there is probable cause that a crime was committed and that you were the person that committed the crime. The State will call witnesses to prove its case, and the Defendant has an opportunity to present evidence on his/her behalf as well. After the judge has heard the proof he/she will determine whether the case is dismissed or bound over to the grand jury. Preliminary hearings are often beneficial because they allow you to gain insight into the State’s case prior to it being indicted, and preserve a record for future use in trial. But it is always beneficial to discuss the pros and cons of a preliminary hearing with your attorney.
Q: What happens when a case is bound over?
A: If the judge finds probable cause during the preliminary trial that the defendant committed a felony, the case is then assigned to a circuit court judge for trial.
Q: What happens at an arraignment and do I need an attorney?
A: Arraignment is the first time a person is brought before the court to be formally charged. Typically, the judge will call your name, read you your rights, state the charges and ask if you would like to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. It is always best to say “not guilty”, especially if you do not have legal representation at that time. If you are incarcerated, the judge will then set a bail amount. Having an attorney at arraignment is not necessary, but it is beneficial. It’s beneficial because it allows your attorney to set your next court date at a time that works best with his/her calendar. It’s also beneficial because it prevents you from doing or saying something that may jeopardize your case.
Q: My case was dismissed at the lower court; why am I now being indicted?
A: It may seem strange, but as long as the case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning that the State can bring the case back up if it chooses to, Tennessee law permits for a person to be indicted, even if the case was dismissed at the lower court. This does not trigger double jeopardy, and it is perfectly legal. Cases are dismissed for a variety of reasons at the lower level, some dealing with the facts of the case and some dealing with issues getting witnesses to come to court. Because the State does not have to present all of its evidence at the preliminary hearing, there may actually be probable cause; however, the State did not meet that burden through the limited amount of evidence that it presented. It allows the State an opportunity to try and prove probable cause again at the grand jury. This typically only occurs with felony offenses.
Q: I've been arrested for the first time; what do I need to do?
A: The first thing to do is consult an attorney. Do not give a statement to the police before consulting with an attorney. Next, you want to contact a friend or family member informing them of what happened. (Do not discuss details of your case over the jail telephone, because the calls are typically recorded.) After you have been formally arraigned or a bond has been set, you want to hire a bondsman to bond you out. If the bond is too high for you or your family to make, then save your money and have your family hire an attorney. It is more important to have legal representation than to be out on bond.
Q: Can my charge be expunged? If so, what is the process?
A: It depends on the charge. There are certain offenses such as, DUI and domestic assault, which can never be expunged from your record. Tennessee Code Annotated § 40-32-101 specifies which offenses can and cannot be expunged from your record. If you are charged with an eligible offense, the charge may be expunged from your record, either through judicial or pre-trial diversion. There is a $100.00 filing fee to request an eligibility check through the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Once eligibility has been determined, a form is completed and submitted to the Court. There is a $350.00 filing fee for charges to be expunged from a person’s record. The fees stated are in addition to your attorney’s fee.
Q: It's my first offense. Do I automatically get probation?
A: No! Many people are of the belief that being a first-time offender will automatically entitle them to an alternative sentence, or probation. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Attorneys will certainly seek an alternative sentence, but there are some circumstances when it is not available. Some offenses, such as aggravated robbery, are not eligible for probation. Therefore, regardless if it is your first or tenth offense, probation is not an option.
Q: Isn't it true that the district attorney is required to give me 3 plea offers before my case can be set for trial?
A: No! In fact, the DA is not required to make a plea offer in every case. Making a plea offer is left up to the discretion of the DA, and if he or she feels like the case is strong and does not wish to plea it out, then you are left with the option of going to trial or entering into a blind plea agreement. A blind plea agreement is when a person pleas to the indictment or agreed upon charges and the sentence, fines and whether the defendant serves the time in jail or gets probation is left up to the judge to decide in a separate sentencing hearing.
Q: What's the difference between general sessions/city court/municipal court and circuit court?
A: General sessions/city court/municipal courts, “lower courts,” are only allowed to dispose of misdemeanor cases. All cases, except in special situations when a case is a direct indictment to the grand jury, start in “lower court”. If you are charged with a felony offense, the only way that your matter can be resolved in “lower court” is if the charge is dismissed or reduced down to a misdemeanor offense. As a practical matter, you should always try to resolve your case in the “lower court”. Your attorney’s fees, court costs and fines will almost always be lower than the will if the matter proceeds to circuit or criminal court. Your plea offer will also likely be much better in the “lower court.”
Q: What should I do if I am arrested for DUI?
A: If you have been pulled over for DUI and arrested, it is important that you do not say anything to the authorities without an attorney present. Although you are not required to undergo testing, there can be consequences of denying tests. An experienced DUI lawyer can help you navigate such a complicated matter.
Q: What is the difference between assault and domestic assault?
A: Assault involves threats or putting someone in fear of harm or physical abuse or harm. Domestic assault consists of the same offenses committed against a family member or significant other; however, the penalties may be much more severe.
Q: What are the punishments for drug crimes?
A: The exact penalties you could face for a drug crime conviction depend on the nature of the alleged offense. Crimes involving larger quantities of drugs and not simple possession will typically carry heavier punishments.
Q: Do I have to speak to law enforcement?
A: Absolutely not. You are not required to answer questions or talk about your arrest with law enforcement officials. Remain silent until your Jackson criminal defense lawyer shows up.
Q: What types of theft crimes do you defend?
A: We offer legal defense for virtually any type of theft crime, from petty theft and shoplifting to grand theft auto and other felony theft crimes. It is important to have a skilled attorney on your side.
Please contact our office now to set up a free case consultation with a Jackson criminal defense attorney.
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