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Tennessee Court Records

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How Does The Tennessee Juvenile Court Work?

The Tennessee juvenile courts are part of the state’s limited jurisdiction courts. These courts hear only cases concerning juveniles, i.e., persons who have not yet attained the legal age (18 years old) and have never been sent to adult court.

Tennessee’s 98 juvenile courts have 109 judges and 45 magistrates in total. The Private Acts of the Tennessee counties designate seventeen (17) of these courts as “special juvenile courts.” The rest of them—the 81 courts—are general session courts that have juvenile jurisdiction. The counties, rather than the state, fund these courts.

A juvenile court’s legal jurisdiction covers delinquency cases, status offenses, children in need of services, and other matters involving minors. Juvenile matters over which the court has exclusive original jurisdiction (T. C.A § 37–1–103) include:

  • Child custody and visitation
  • Termination of parental rights
  • Child abuse
  • Neglect and dependency proceedings
  • Establishment of parentage
  • Truancy
  • Ordering mental health and medical treatment for children
  • Juvenile traffic offenses
  • Termination of a home placement
  • Authorization of abortion without parental consent
  • The commitment of minors to the Department of Children Services’ custody
  • Authorization of a minor’s enlistment in the armed services or employment
  • Transfer of juveniles who committed serious offenses to the adult criminal court, etc.

Also, the court shares concurrent jurisdiction with the chancery, probate, general sessions, and circuit court in certain areas, as described by T. C.A § 37–1–104. For instance, the court’s concurrent jurisdiction with the chancery and circuit court pertains to cases originating from the 1980 Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Case proceedings in the juvenile courts do not have a fixed time frame between filing and disposition. The juvenile courts hear different case types, and each type requires a unique court process to adjudicate.

Generally, the juvenile courts try to stick to the Tennessee Rules of Juvenile Practice Procedure when resolving cases. However, as these courts are subject to county charters, the practices and procedures of the courts vary and are more likely to mirror the needs and preferences of their communities.

In Tennessee, judges of the juvenile courts are subject to the same qualifications and terms of office as the trial court judges. The judges serve 8-year terms and are elected by qualified voters of a circuit or district. To be eligible for the position, a candidate must be at least 30 years of age and a state resident for five years and of the circuit or district for a year (Article VI, Section 4 of the Tennessee Constitution). The party must also be licensed to practice law in the state.

Judges of the general session courts are selected from nonpartisan elections while the juvenile court judges from partisan elections. If a judicial seat becomes vacant, either by retirement, resignation, death, or another cause, the opening is filled as directed by the law. That is, the county’s legislative body will select a replacement to hold the office until the next county general election.

All state judges are expected to comply with the Code of Judicial Conduct (Rule 10 and 10B). These rules also direct the disqualification or recusal of the juvenile court judges.

Unlike most adult court records created in Tennessee and subject to the state’s Public Records Act, citizens do not have the right of access to all records of the juvenile court. For example, the identifying information and medical records of a minor. Per T. C. A. § 37–1–153, the following persons are authorized to access juvenile records:

  • The judge, officers, and court staff
  • Case parties and their legal representatives
  • A private or public institution providing supervision or having custody of a child by court order
  • A court, its staff and officials, and the defendant’s attorney for use in preparing a presentence report
  • Any person or institution/agency with a legitimate interest in the case

The juvenile records that may be disclosed to the public:

  • Case records of a juvenile who was 14 years or older at the time of an alleged offense, and this offense, if perpetrated by an adult, would constitute a violent crime such as:
    • Murder in the first and second degrees
    • Rape
    • Aggravated rape
    • Rape of a child
    • Aggravated rape of a child
    • Aggravated sexual battery
    • Aggravated robbery
    • Especially aggravated robbery
    • Kidnapping
    • Aggravated kidnapping
    • Especially aggravated kidnapping

Individuals who want to inspect or obtain copies of these records can contact the juvenile court clerk of the court where the case proceeding took place. Bear in mind that there are court charges for copies of court records, typically charged on a per-page basis.

Members of the public can find contact numbers and physical addresses of the juvenile court clerks’ offices on the Tennessee judiciary’s website. Because the clerk offices are situated in the courthouses, requesters can easily find the Tennessee juvenile courts as well. Overall, it is not uncommon to see a circuit court clerk or clerk and master listed as the juvenile court clerk on the clerks’ directory. This simply means that the clerk maintains court records for the two courts and is the recipient of requests for juvenile court records that are open to state residents.

Tennessee juvenile court clerks do not maintain case search or public record sites as a means of viewing juvenile case records remotely. All requests for these types of court records must be tendered in person at the courthouse or by placing a call to the relevant clerk’s office.

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Tennessee Juvenile Court