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Tennessee Court Records

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How Does The Tennessee Criminal Court Work?

Tennessee’s court system can be likened to a three-level pyramid. Each part accommodates distinct courts authorized to hear specific criminal and civil cases. At the lowest and largest level are the trial courts, consisting of the Circuit, Probate, Chancery, and Criminal Courts.

The state legislature created the Criminal Courts to lighten the caseload of the Circuit Courts. Like other state trial courts, these courts are present in the judicial districts, though not in all thirty-one (31) of them. In districts with no Criminal Court, the Circuit Court retains its criminal jurisdiction, as given by T. C.A § 16–10–102.

The Tennessee Criminal Courts preside over cases where the state files a criminal charge against an individual (T. C. A. § 40–1–108). Along with this original jurisdiction, the courts can accept misdemeanor appeals from courts with lesser legal authority—for example, the General Sessions Criminal Court. The Criminal Courts’ common cases include murder, assault, DUI, burglary, drugs, and robbery. Typically, proceedings in the Criminal Court are heard by a jury, though a judge may handle some matters without one. All court proceedings follow the Tennessee Court Rules and Local Rules of Practice.

Judges of the Criminal Court are selected through partisan elections. Presently, there are 33 Criminal Court judges in Tennessee. The statutory qualifications for the position include:

  • At least 30 years of age
  • State resident for five years before an election or appointment
  • A resident of a circuit or district for one year before an election or appointment
  • Licensed to practice law in Tennessee

Criminal Court judges serve eight-year terms, except the presiding judge of a district who serves for one year only. In each judicial district, the judges select one among themselves to be the presiding judge until the next year. However, if any district fails or is unable to pick such a judge, the chief justice of the Supreme Court steps in to appoint one for the district (T. C.A § 16–2–509).

When a vacancy occurs in the Criminal Court, the Trial Court Vacancy Commission submits three candidates to the governor. Then, the governor appoints one as a judge to serve in the interim until the next general election.

Other than hearing criminal cases and appeals in their districts, these officials also serve as magistrates (T. C. A. § 40–5–102). As such, they may issue search warrants and felony arrest warrants for a public offense upon finding sufficient grounds, and may perform other magisterial duties outlined in T. C. A. § 40–1–111.

The Criminal Courts are courts of record. This means that they create, maintain, and disperse public court records per the law and Administrative Office ot the Courts (AOC) Records Policy. Therefore, interested persons can obtain case information and records by querying Criminal Court Clerk offices in local courthouses. To find these records, an individual can visit or call the clerk’s office, or use “case search” or “docket search” systems provided on the official websites of the Criminal Court Clerks to obtain information such as:

  • The case status
  • Arrest date
  • Case number
  • Disposition and disposition date
  • Date of birth
  • Charged and convicted offense
  • The attorney’s and judge’s name
  • Incarceration information (location, sentence length, etc)
  • Court costs, fines, and owed amounts
  • Appearance details (date, courtroom, reason, etc.)

However, what is available online is the unofficial version of the records at the clerks’ offices. Therefore, the information may be more basic or slightly outdated than the originals.

Note that in some counties, the Circuit Court Clerk serves as the Criminal Court Clerk. Counties with Criminal Court Clerks include Hamilton, Davidson, Knox, Sumner, Shelby. A searchable directory of all court clerks in Tennessee is available on the judicial branch’s website.

Below are the physical locations, clerk phone numbers, and hours of the Criminal Courts in Tennessee. Some locations have the suite or room numbers of the clerk offices:

Davidson County Criminal Court
408 2nd Avenue, North
Suite 2120
Nashville, TN 37201
Phone: (615) 862.5601

Hamblen County Criminal Court
510 Allison Street
Morristown, TN 37814
Fax: (423) 585–4034
Hours: Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.–4:00 p.m.

Hamilton County Criminal Court
600 Market Street
Room 102
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Phone: (423) 209–7500
Fax: (423) 209–7501
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.

Knox County Criminal Court
City County Building
400 Main Street
Knoxville, TN 37902
Phone: (865) 215–2375

Loudon County Criminal Court
601 Grove Street
P. O. Box 280
Loudon, TN 37774
Phone: (865) 458–2042
Fax: (865) 458–2043
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m

Scott County Criminal Court
Scott County Courthouse.
575 Scott High Drive
Huntsville, TN 37756.
Phone: (423) 663–2440
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Shelby County Criminal Court
201 Poplar Avenue
Suite 3034
Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 222–3200
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Sumner County Criminal Court
Criminal Justice Building
118 West Smith Street
Gallatin, TN 37066

Note: this location is different from the Criminal Court Clerk’s office

Washington County Criminal Court
108 West Jackson Boulevard
Suite 1212
Jonesborough, TN 37659
Phone: (423) 753–1612

Mind that this list is not exhaustive. A better way to discover if a Tennessee county has a legally established Criminal Court (court formed by the General Assembly) is to visit the county’s official website. Sometimes, the local Circuit Court will have this information.

The Criminal Courts handle thousands of cases yearly (Annual Report of the Tennessee Judiciary, FY 2019–2020).. As explained earlier, the courts operate in certain judicial districts to reduce the caseload of the Circuit Courts. In the Criminal Courts, the length of time spent on criminal proceedings differs by case. However, although it is not easy to get this estimate, defendants are entitled to a speedy trial under the Tennessee Constitution (Tenn. Const. Art. I, § 9) and Section 40–14–101 of the Tennessee Code Annotated (T. C.A).

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