Tennessee Court Records

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What are Criminal Court Records?

Criminal court records in Tennessee refer to one of the public records which are open to inspection by the public. The records can include papers, documents, files, letters, maps, books, microfilms, sound recordings, and any other material related to criminal court proceedings.

Understanding the Tennessee Criminal Court System

Supreme court

The Supreme Court of Tennessee is the highest court in the state. It's tasked with the responsibility of interpreting the laws of the State and country. The court is presided over by five Justices who meet at Jackson, Knoxville, and Nashville. Sometimes, they may meet at other locations when required. The court is the last resort for appealing cases, both civil and criminal. It also decides delayed cases of the court of appeal and court of criminal appeal, especially when there is an urgent need for a decision. During appeal cases, no witnesses or juries are present. Attorneys can only make legal arguments, which include oral and written arguments since the court does not permit testimonies. After considering the arguments, the Supreme Court Justices make their decision, which is known as “Opinions.”

General Sessions Courts

Every county has a general sessions court jurisdiction. The court hears only preceding felony and misdemeanor trials. This happens when the defendant does not want the case presided over by the jury in a criminal or circuit court. Also, in counties without Juvenile courts, the judges of the General Sessions Court hears juvenile cases.

Trial Courts

There are four types of trial courts in Tennessee, which are the circuit, chancery, criminal, and probate court. Every district in Tennessee has a chancery and circuit court. But not all have probate or criminal courts.

I. Circuit courts

The circuit court is the highest trial court in the state. It hears new cases and appeals from the general session, juvenile, and municipal courts. The circuit court handles criminal cases at the trial level in all districts except those with an already established criminal court.

II. Chancery courts

The chancery court hears cases such as contract issues, lawsuits, injunction applications, and other civil matters. The Judge of a chancery court is called a Chancellor. The chancellor has the right to make partial changes to the implementation of strict law. Most civil matters such as divorces can be handled by either the chancery or circuit court.

III. Criminal court

Seeing that the circuit court has many cases to hear, some districts in Tennessee created the criminal court to relieve some duties. The court handles criminal cases as well as misdemeanor appeals. Note that not all districts have criminal courts.

IV. Probate court

The probate court has the power to make legal decisions on probate wills, estate administration, guardianship, and conservatorship.

Municipal Courts

These courts are found in Tennessee cities and are often referred to as municipal courts. Municipal courts hear cases of traffic violations and other violations that could tamper with the safety and welfare of the city. The fine for these violations can be up to $50 with court cost inclusive. In a municipal court, you’ll find a judge and court clerk.

Juvenile And Family Courts

Juvenile cases are either presided over by judges in the General session courts or the Private Act Juvenile court. Every county has a juvenile court that handles minor cases. However, when it comes to handling claims, they do not strictly follow the Tennessee Rules of Juvenile Procedure. Each court attends to matters according to what is perceived right in the county. So, the results of juvenile trials may vary from county to county in Tennessee. There are about 98 juvenile courts, 109 judges with 45 magistrates.

Criminal Court Of Appeals

The court of criminal appeals, like the name suggests, was created to hear felony and misdemeanor court appeals. The court was established in 1967 and has 12 judges that sit in a panel of three every month for appeal cases. When hearing appeal trials, only the judges and lawyers of both the defendant and prosecutor are present. No jury or witnesses are permitted in the appeal. The lawyers are also not allowed to present new evidence. Trial cases in the criminal court of appeal in Tennessee can be further appealed (by permission) in the Supreme court.

What’s included in a Criminal Court Record?

Some of the general contents of a criminal court record include:

  • Executed arrest warrant
  • Summons and complaint
  • Infraction/violation complaint
  • Information or indictment
  • Notice of rights
  • Orders regarding probation
  • Transaction sheet

Obtaining Criminal Court Records

Most criminal court records in Tennessee are available for public view except for juvenile records and other confidential documents as decided by the court. Individuals can obtain records via mail, online, or in person. They do not have to give reasons as to why they are requesting it. They only need to ensure that they are not seeking confidential records. However, it is recommended that requesters provide the following information to ease the process of obtaining records:

  • Names of judges, lawyers, and other legal officials related to the case
  • Names of parties to the case
  • The docket numbers, reporter citations of the original case
  • Case appeals
  • Date of case or appeals
  • The location of the court where the lawsuit was filed or appealed

How Do I Access Tennessee Criminal Court Records in Person?

According to the Tennessee Public Record Act (TPRA), members of the public may inspect or view court records by submitting a request to the record custodian. The clerks of general sessions and criminal courts are tasked with the responsibility of keeping criminal proceeding records. Individuals in need of such documents will have to visit the court in person if they cannot access it online. They can decide only to view the record or to make copies as well. Making copies of records comes with a fee. There is also the option of visiting the Tennessee State Library and Archives anytime between 8:00 am – 4:30 pm from Tuesday to Saturday central time. Records are unavailable between 12:00 pm- 1:00 am.

Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:

  • The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
  • The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name

Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.

How Do I Find Tennessee Criminal Court Records by Mail?

The Records Management Division, which is under the Public Records Policy of the Department of State, helps to preserve records and ensure they are available for use. Anyone can request for a criminal court record by sending a mail or email to the Public Records Policy Coordinator, who will channel the request to the official put in the care of the particular record (record custodian). Request for inspection and copies of criminal court records can be made by filling the Form A found on the Tennessee Secretary of State official website and sending it to the mailing address:

Office of the Secretary of State
Attn: General Counsel
State Capitol, 1st Floor
Nashville, TN 37243
(615) 741-2819

When filling the form, requesters must be specific about the records needed to get a reply from the PRPC. After receiving and acknowledging the request form, the coordinator will inform the individual about the next step, which involves:

  • Sending a means of identification like a driver’s license or ID card to prove state citizenship
  • Getting ready the forms and fees for copies

People who are not citizens of Tennessee or fail to provide adequate information on the court record may not receive a reply from the PRPC. Requests for documents that do not exist may not receive an answer too.

Are all Tennessee Criminal Court Records Public?

Almost all Tennessee Criminal Court Records allow public viewing except for confidential records like the probation and parole records. Juvenile criminal court records for young people from fourteen and above who have committed significant crimes like murder may be made public, but those below 13 years are sealed from public view. However, note that the courts might keep the personal identity of the juvenile hidden.

How do I find Tennessee Public Records for Free?

All state, county, and municipal criminal court records are open to the public (citizens of Tennessee) for free inspection when they check the records in person. They only pay money when they want to make copies. Some county courts that have their court records online will permit individuals to freely search while others will demand a subscription fee first before allowing access.

Can I Access Sealed Criminal Court Records?

Sealed criminal records in Tennessee are accessible only to court personnel, attorneys, and some law enforcement agencies. Sealed criminal court records are not open to members of the public. Any court official who releases it to the public has committed a Class A misdemeanor.

Are Juvenile Criminal Records Open to the Public?

Juvenile criminal court records are not opened to the public if they juveniles are under 13 years. It is an offense for any court official to disclose it. Records of persons aged 14 years and above may be open to the public. In addition, juvenile records for cases where a minor has committed acts that would have been constituted as first and second-degree murder, sexual offenses, or sexual violence if tried as an adult may be open to the public. Minors could submit a request for the expungement of public records even if they were adjudicated, delinquents. Part or all of the files would get erased if the court approves. However, they meet the eligibility requirements which are:

  • Must be 17 years or older
  • One year has passed since their most recent delinquent act
  • Have never been convicted as an adult of any criminal offense
  • Has not been adjudicated delinquent of any sexual offense
  • Has not been involved in any unruly behavior for at least a year before petitioning for expunction

Juveniles who committed delinquent acts of sexual offenses and sexual violence cannot have their records expunged.

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