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Tennessee Court Records

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How Does The Tennessee Municipal Court Work?

Within the Tennessee judicial branch, the municipal courts are often referred to as the “city courts,” as they can only operate within city and town limits. These courts are constrained to city code violations and traffic offenses. In most instances, the violations are more civil than criminal in nature, as they concern public safety and welfare rather than criminal prosecution. In Tennessee, nearly 253 cities have municipal courts.

The municipal courts’ jurisdiction is outlined under T. C.A § 16–18–302. This legal authority includes:

  • Any violation of a law or ordinance of a municipality. Examples include alcohol violations, animal control, building and zoning codes, and speeding tickets.
  • Any matter arising under the laws and ordinances of a municipality

Also, the court has jurisdiction to impose fines for a Class C misdemeanor, provided the civil penalty for the violation does not exceed $50. Furthermore, the court can impose a fine not over $500 in certain cases and sentence a person to jail for up to 30 days.

There is no specified statutory limit for the time it takes to obtain a judgment from the municipal court. Ultimately, the shorter court proceedings are the ones without complex legal issues. A good feature about the municipal court is that it handles the more simple court cases, thereby allowing for speedier resolutions.

Contrary to the other state courts, the Tennessee rules of civil and criminal procedure do not apply to municipal courts. The courts may adopt certain parts of the rules, but mostly, they heed the charters of their municipalities or cities. Therefore, procedures, practices, and legal jurisdictions vary on a court-to-court basis. More often than not, a municipal court’s policies and procedures can be found on its official website.

Judges in the municipal court are called “municipal judges,” but sometimes they are referred to as the “city judges.” Municipal judges can be selected in two ways: either through partisan elections to serve a term of 8 years per T. C.A § 16–18–203, or the particular municipality may establish ordinances for the selection of judges and their terms of office. For example, the city court judge in Jefferson City, Tennessee, is selected by the city council and serves a two-year term. Whereas the judge of the Town of Farragut Municipal Court typically serves for one year.

The minimum eligibility criteria for the municipal or city judges are as follows:

  • At least 30 years old
  • A resident of the town or city for at least one year before the election
  • Citizen of Tennessee

Usually, upon a judicial vacancy, the city’s governing body or council will appoint a municipal or city judge to serve for the time being until the next regular county election.

Every municipal court has a court clerk’s office that keeps records of cases heard by the judges per the Tennessee Public Records Act (TPRA). The clerk is either known as the municipal or city court clerk. Citizens of Tennessee who require access to these records are free to visit the clerk’s office within regular working hours to make an official oral or written request, or call the office to find out the court’s policies for inspecting or copying public records.

Certain courts like the Germantown Municipal Court and Spring Hill Municipal Court may provide “open records request” forms to download, fill, and submit. This form can be sent via mail or hand-delivered to the clerk’s office. Generally, whether composing a request or completing a request form, the requester must provide key details of a case, such as a case number, party’s name, and filing date. The record seeker will also have to:

  • Provide personal details: name, address, phone number, and email.
  • Indicate the purpose of the request (to copy or inspect the record). If requesting to copy a record, the individual must also state how he/she intends to pick up the copies.
  • Provide a detailed description of the record
  • Proof of residency. For instance, a copy of a photo ID. (This is because only Tennesee citizens can access the state’s public records)

As an alternative, some municipal court clerks provide online docket and records search sites. These websites are accessible remotely by anyone with an internet-enabled device. Altogether, an interested individual will have to input specific records details into the search fields to use the platform. The critical search queries are usually a first and last name, date of birth, or citation number. The individual may also filter online search results with a driver’s license number.

Note that inspection requests, regardless of the method of inquiry (online or in-person), do not attract any court charges. However, the requester is required to pay certain fees to make copies of court records. These fees change by the court of record. Therefore, it is best to call the clerk’s office ahead of time to find out this information, as well as other necessary court-specific requirements, like the acceptable payment methods. Keep in mind that several courts will accept checks or money orders for mail requests, but will not accept cash unless it is an in-person request. In some cases, the courts will accept a credit card payment.

Because Tennessee has many municipal courts, the most efficient way to find a court’s physical court location is to search the City Court Clerks website. More so, the clerk’s office will be at the same address as the municipal court. The phone number of the clerk’s office can also be retrieved from this site.

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