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Criminal Law in Tennessee

If you or a loved one is being questioned in connection with a crime or has been arrested, it’s likely one of the scariest times of your life – with good reason. The future, as you know it, is at risk.

It’s imperative that you seek legal help immediately. Ask the local bar association for a referral or do an Internet search for “How to find a Tennessee Criminal Defense Attorney.”

In this article, we’ll provide background information on Tennessee  criminal law that you may find helpful:

  • Tennessee criminal laws;
  • What you need to know about criminal defense in Tennessee; and
  • How to work with your Tennessee criminal defense attorney.

Tennessee Criminal Laws

Certain actions or in actions are classified as crimes in an attempt to prevent harm. Ignorance of the law is not a defense.

  • Tennessee criminal laws are found in the Tennessee Criminal Code.
  • Criminal statutes (i.e. written laws) define unlawful conduct that is punishable.
  • Most laws are a matter of common sense.

Bribery, DUI, embezzlement, theft, cyber stalking, assault, kidnapping, disorderly conduct, child abuse, gambling, burglary, extortion, drug possession, credit card fraud, and identity theft are all examples of behaviors that have been classified as criminal in Tennessee.

Your criminal defense attorney will explain the crime you or your loved one has been charged with.

Statute of Limitations

If the statute of limitations (i.e. time limit) has passed in a case, charges cannot be brought.

For example, in Tennessee, the statute of limitations for:

  • Disorderly Conduct is 1 year. (Tenn. Code В§40-2-102(a)).
  • Voluntary Manslaughter is 4 years. (Tenn. Code В§40-2-101(b)(3)).
  • Arson is 8 years. (Tenn. Code В§40-2-101(d)).

The first thing your defense attorney will check is the statute of limitations in your case.


If criminal laws are broken, probation, death penalty, jail time, fines, restitution, education, and counseling may be ordered.

Past criminal history and violence are considered when handing down punishment.

For example, in Tennessee, sentencing guidelines call for:

  • Between 1 and 60 years of jail time, depending on the specific felony committed and the circumstances of the crime.
  • Fines up to $50,000 in felony cases. The specific fine depends upon the crime and the circumstances of the crime.
  • Misdemeanors are punishable up to 1 year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.

Your criminal defense lawyer will give you a sentence range appropriate for your individual situation.

What You Need to Know About Criminal Defense

  • You need to be represented by legal counsel whether you know you’re innocent or guilty. Even if you’re innocent, you’re in danger of being convicted and you need legal representation.
  • Hire an attorney right away. A “wait and see” approach is much too dangerous.
  • If police do not allow you to leave the police station or wherever you are, you have been arrested and you need a lawyer.
  • Even if you think something will make you look bad, disclose it to your attorney.
  • Answer all your attorney’s questions completely and honestly. Your future depends on it.
  • Your words can be used against you by police, but not by your attorney.

How to Work with a Tennessee Criminal Defense Lawyer

Remember your criminal defense attorney is always working in your best interests.

  • All communications with your attorney are strictly confidential.
  • Answer each and every question your lawyer asks you. It’s okay if some of the questions make you feel uncomfortable; it’s all for a good cause = you and your future.
  • Explain exactly what happened. Include details that put you in a bad light.
  • Return all phone calls in a timely manner.
  • Provide all requested documentation and information promptly.
  • Stay in contact with your attorney’s office.
  • Update your current address and phone number if they change.
  • Expect your attorney to be polite and cooperative with the police and prosecutors. It’s part of the job and benefits you.

Qualified Tennessee criminal defense lawyers know Tennessee criminal law, understand the specific criminal charges against you, and know how to best analyze your case and put forward a strong and strategic defense. It’s okay to call a criminal defense lawyer anytime of the day or night.

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