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Tennessee Court Records

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How Does The Tennessee General Sessions Court Work?

The Tennessee General Sessions Court is one of the three (3) courts of limited jurisdiction in Tennessee. The other two are the Juvenile and Municipal (or City) Courts. Among these courts, the General Sessions Court has the broadest criminal and civil jurisdiction. However, this legal authority varies by county per private act and statute.

The General Sessions Court’s authority to hear civil cases covers disputes that amount to $25,000 or less in damages. Exceptions to this financial limit are replevin (recovery of personal property) and forcible entry and detainer actions, for which the court has unlimited original jurisdiction (T. C.A § 16–15–501). Meanwhile, the court’s criminal jurisdiction spans misdemeanor cases and preliminary hearings of felony cases where the accused (defendant) yields the right to a jury trial and grand jury investigation. Every lawsuit filed in the General Sessions Court is resolved by a bench trial (trial by a judge).

A civil or criminal case in the General Sessions Court begins with a filing. In a civil case, the plaintiff files the claim against another party (defendant) to demand compensation for an injury or loss. The plaintiff can also initiate this suit to compel the defendant to act or not act (also known as “special performance”). Whereas criminal cases begin when the government files a criminal complaint against an individual (defendant) to penalize the party for violating the penal code.

These case types differ in court processes, hearings, and resolutions. What’s more, civil and criminal proceedings vary according to a General Sessions Court’s Local Rules of Practice. Therefore, litigants should do well to familiarize themselves with these guidelines, either by reading the online PDF version or ordering a copy from the General Session Clerk’s office. Then again, hiring an experienced lawyer can save time and undue stress, both at understanding the law and avoiding mistakes that could lengthen a proceeding.

After a civil or criminal proceeding is concluded in the General Sessions Court, any party who disagrees with the court’s judgment has the right of appeal to the Tennessee Circuit Court. However, to exercise this right, the unsatisfied party must file a petition with the court clerk within 10 days of the final judgment. Note that separate court rules and practices govern appeals from the General Session Courts to the Circuit Courts.

Generally, the time between filing and resolving a case in the General Sessions Court is not definite. For civil cases, it can take months; sometimes, years. However, criminal defendants have the right to a speedy trial bequeathed to them under Tenn. Const. Art. I, § 9 and T. C. A. § 40–14–101.

The General Sessions Court judges decide all matters brought before the court, but, they can preside over juvenile cases in counties where no special juvenile court exists. A General Sessions Court judge is chosen through nonpartisan elections to serve an 8-year term. Below are the qualifications for the position:

  • A Tennessee resident for 5 years preceding an election or appointment
  • A resident of the circuit or district for 1 year before an election or appointment
  • At least 30 years old
  • Authorized to practice law in the state

Per T. C.A § 16–15–210, a county’s legislative body fills judicial vacancies in the General Sessions Courts. This appointment method is different from the trial courts, where the governor selects a nominee from a list compiled by the Trial Court Vacancy Commission to fill the vacant post.

In Tennessee, members of the public can inspect and copy records created and maintained by the General Sessions Courts under the state’s Public Records Act. However, record seekers must be citizens of the state, as requests by out-of-state parties are not permitted or processed by the Tennessee courts.

A General Sessions Court Clerk maintains the case records of the court’s criminal and civil divisions. These records include warrants, felony and misdemeanor hearings, orders, judgments, citations, scanned documents, etc. The clerk’s office to submit a written or oral request for a record is the one that received the criminal or civil filing.

The Tennessee judiciary offers a tool to find General Sessions Court Clerk locations in the state. However, most counties in Tennessee do not have a designated General Sessions Court Clerk. Instead, Circuit Court Clerks or City Court Clerks may play the General Sessions Court Clerk’s role. As a result, the Court Clerks page may be a more helpful tool in finding the names, phone numbers, and street addresses of the Clerks that can provide the case records of the General Sessions Courts.

Note that for in-person requests, court fees for obtaining regular or certified copies apply. As there is no standard court fee schedule in the state, it is important to contact the clerk’s office to obtain the relevant charges and determine the court’s request processes. For instance, if there is a record request form available to aid easy access to case records.

Other than inspecting or purchasing copies of case records in person, via mail, or by other court-approved means, interested individuals can check the official websites of the General Sessions Courts for online public records systems. One such court that disseminates case information online is the Davidson General Sessions Court. Another is the Shelby County General Sessions Court.

Typically, the web-based systems can provide criminal and civil case records, but the information available may be limited as these are the unofficial versions of court records. Some courts offer free access to their online databases. However, others may require a user account and subscription fee to view or download case documents and dockets.

  • Criminal Records
  • Arrests Records
  • Warrants
  • Driving Violations
  • Inmate Records
  • Felonies
  • Misdemeanors
  • Bankruptcies
  • Tax & Property Liens
  • Civil Judgements
  • Federal Dockets
  • Probate Records
  • Marriage Records
  • Divorce Records
  • Death Records
  • Property Records
  • Asset Records
  • Business Ownership
  • Professional Licenses
  • And More!