Tennessee Criminal Law: An Overview

Tennessee's crime rate (violent and property crimes) has been in decline since 2001. In 2015, law enforcement reported a rate of 3,548.3 crimes per 100,000 residents in the state—down from a rate of 5,144.3 in 2001.

However, Tennessee ranked third in the nation for the highest violent crime nation in 2014. Its capital, Memphis, is both the city with the highest violent crime rate in the state and was ranked as second in the nation for cities with more than 250,000 residents with high violent crime rates in 2014.

Tennessee Felonies and Misdemeanors

In Tennessee, crimes are classified by their seriousness as either felonies or misdemeanors. Crimes like murder, rape, and fraud are felonies while crimes like assault, reckless driving, and marijuana possession are misdemeanors.

Tennessee law also distinguishes felonies from misdemeanors by the extent of their penalties. Felonies are punished with more than one year of imprisonment and, in extreme cases, death. Misdemeanors are punished with less than one year of imprisonment and fines.

Capital Punishment in Tennessee

Felons charged with First Degree Murder may face life imprisonment with or without parole or the death penalty depending on aggravating factors. Lethal injection is the primary execution method in Tennessee, though felons on death row may choose death by electrocution as an alternative.

Tennessee has had a complicated history with capital punishment. The death penalty has been abolished and reinstated multiple times throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. A moratorium was placed and subsequently lifted in 2007 following an inquiry on death penalty protocols.

Tennessee DUI Laws

Like every other state, Tennessee outlaws driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicating substances. Tennessee's minimum legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) level for drivers over 21 years of age is 0.08 percent. The minimum BAC level for minors under age 21 is 0.02 percent.

DUI minimum penalties include 48 hours in jail, one year of license revocation, and a $350 fine barring any other administrative and court charges. Penalties can scale drastically with repeated offenses and aggravating conditions like vehicular homicide or assault up to a $15,000 base fine and one year in prison.

Tennessee Prosecutors File Criminal Charges

Many people think that police officers decide who gets charged with a crime. The police are responsible for investigating crimes, gathering evidence and sometimes also testifying in court. But prosecutorsóincluding district attorneys, United States attorneys, states attorneys and othersóultimately decide whether a suspect is prosecuted or not. Tennessee has a large network of district attorneys that prosecute state criminal laws in the state.

Contact a Tennessee Criminal Defense Attorney

Anyone facing criminal charges in Tennessee has the right to mount a vigorous defense. A qualified Tennessee Criminal Defense Attorney familiar with local criminal procedures and laws can be a crucial advocate.

Make sure you talk with an attorney about your case and your needs before hiring one. Most criminal defense lawyers should be able to handle any misdemeanor or low-level crime. Not all attorneys are qualified to handle serious charges.

A qualified criminal defense attorney could mean the difference between going to jail and going free.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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