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Tennessee Court Records

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How Does The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Work?

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals is an intermediate appellate court in Tennessee, established with the sole jurisdiction to hear criminal appeals in misdemeanor and felony cases—except when the case gets referred to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Appeals in this court are not based on a fact-finding procedure. Instead, a panel of judges considers the validity of a lower court’s ruling based on state laws, the federal constitution, legislative acts, administrative rules, and regulations that apply to a case. Also, the appellate court leverages the existing body of common law and treaties to rule on an appeal.

Using these sources of law, the Court of Criminal Appeals seeks to determine whether the lower court has made a material error in the trial or errors in a trial court judge’s interpretation of the law. Only the defendant may appeal a criminal case because federal and state laws prohibit double jeopardy, i.e., trying an individual twice for the same crime. Indeed, the petitions in the intermediate appellate court often involve double jeopardy as the question of law up for consideration.

Again, the Court of Criminal Appeals does not collect new evidence or call witnesses. Instead, the court typically bases its decisions on the written brief submitted by the petitioner’s attorney. In some cases, the court may hold short proceedings to hear oral arguments from the legal representatives of the persons involved. If an appeal is successful, the Court of Criminal Appeals issues an opinion on its findings of error in the lower court’s verdict and reverses the original judgment. However, if an appeal fails, the court still issues an opinion on why the initial ruling stands.

If the Court of Appeals reverses a judgment, it shall remand the case back to a lower court and order the trial court to take further action, including a trial de novo, i.e., hold a new trial. Otherwise, the appellate court may order that the lower court corrects or modifies its judgment. At times, the appellate court urges the trial court to take additional evidence and reconsider the case based on a precedent the appellate court had set in a recent issue. The Court of Appeals’ decision will stand unless subject to a new legislative act, constitutional amendment, or a latter opinion where the court overrules itself.

According to judicial statistics, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals receives about 900 appeals annually. Generally, cases come up to the Court of Criminal Appeals when a defendant exercises his/her appeal as of right (Rule 3) or files an appeal by permission. Appeals by right means litigants do not need the permission of the trial or appellate court as a prerequisite to initiating an appeal. However, there are statutory limitations. Conversely, appeals by permission involve cases where the Court of Appeals has the discretionary right to accept and hear the petition. A typical appeal begins within thirty (30) days of the verdict. Thereafter, the time until the court issues a decision varies with case complexity and outstanding caseload. It is not uncommon for an appeal to take a year or more.

Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals comprises twelve judges who sit in panels of threes. A judge typically serves an eight-year term and comes into office per appointment by the governor and joint House/Senate confirmation. A peer voting system selects one of these judges to serve as chief judge for twelve months.

Unlike the lower trial courts, which select candidates by district, candidates for a vacant slot in the Court of Criminal Appeals are from anywhere in the state. And per Tennessee code and state constitution, a judgeship candidate must be at least thirty (30) years old, authorized to practice law in Tennessee, resided in the state for at least five years, and lived in a district for one (1) year (Tenn. Const. Art. VI, § 4; Tenn. Code Ann. § 17–5–102)

Following an appointment and confirmation, the judge shall serve the eight-year term. Reappointment is based on a “retain-replace” ballot system after the term expires. In this ballot system, the Board of Judicial Conduct (BJC) shall evaluate a judge and publish the results in newspapers across the state. Then, popular vote by eligible voters shall decide whether the state retains the judge or replaces him/her.

If for any reason, a judge leaves office before the expiration of his/her tenure, the governor shall appoint an eligible replacement. The replacement is also subject to a joint House/Senate confirmation and the same constitutional and statutory requirements as the former judge. If confirmed, the interim judge servers the remainder of the unexpired term and is eligible for reappointment.

Tennessee does not limit the number of terms a justice may serve, and neither does state laws mandate retirement for able judges. However, the Board of Judicial Conduct may remove a serving judge following an investigation (Tenn. Code Ann. § 17–5–301). Generally, these include:

Removal: Following a recommendation by the court or the Board of Judicial Authority, the legislature shall convene for a General Assembly where two-thirds of each house is necessary to remove a judge. Removal proceedings typically following a disciplinary action or investigation into incapacitation Tenn. Code Ann. § 17–5–302. The aggrieved judge may, however, appeal the removal to the Supreme Court.

Impeachment and Conviction: Here, an impeachment action against a serving judge must garner a two-thirds vote of the house of representatives. After that, conviction by a two-thirds vote of the Senate is necessary.

Every month, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals holds sessions at Jackson, Knoxville, and Nashville. Oral arguments proceedings are typically open to the public on a first-come-first-in basis unless the proceedings are confidential.

Jackson Section

6 Highway 45 By-Pass

Western Division Supreme Court Building

P. O. Box 909

Jackson, TN 38302–0909

Phone: (731) 423–5840

Fax: (731) 423–6453

Knoxville Section

505 Main Street, Suite 200

Eastern Division Supreme Court Building

P. O. Box 444

Knoxville, TN 37901

Phone: (865) 594–6700

Fax: (865) 594–6497

Nashville Section

Middle Division Supreme Court Building

401 7th Avenue North

Nashville, TN 37219–1407

Phone: (615) 741–2681

Fax: (615) 532–8757

The public may track active dockets of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals via the online schedule of oral arguments. Audio/video recordings of the oral arguments are also available for up to twenty-one days after the hearing. Likewise, judges’ opinions are available for public perusal.

Meanwhile, persons interested in court transcripts, briefs, and associated case records must contact the Appellate Court Clerk’s Office in the division where the hearing occurred.

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