Protect Your Rights

Clinton, Tennessee Legal Blog

The American justice system can be complex and criminal trials are no exception. If you ever find yourself or a loved one facing a criminal trial, understanding the basics of the proceedings can help prepare you for what to expect.

Pre-trial stage

The process begins long before the gavel bangs. After an arrest, there’s an initial hearing where a judge determines probable cause and sets bail. A preliminary hearing will follow, where the prosecution presents evidence to see if the case goes to trial. Plea bargains, where the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a lighter sentence, are common at this stage.


If the parties do not reach a plea bargain, a trial will ensue. The state typically holds trials in circuit court. There is an option of a jury trial or a bench trial, where the judge alone decides the verdict. The prosecution, usually represented by a district attorney, has the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This involves calling witnesses, presenting evidence, and delivering opening and closing statements.

Defense takes the stage

The defense attorney has the chance to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses and introduce their own evidence to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case. They can also argue for motions to suppress evidence if it was obtained illegally.

Jury’s verdict

After both sides present their arguments, the judge instructs the jury on the relevant laws and they deliberate in private. A conviction requires a unanimous decision. In the case of a hung jury, where jurors can’t reach a consensus, a mistrial is declared and the case may be retried. There are two outcomes:

  • Guilty verdict: If convicted, the judge will sentence the defendant based on the severity of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history. Tennessee sentencing options include incarceration, probation, fines and restitution to the victim.
  • Not guilty verdict: The defendant walks free. The prosecution cannot retry the defendant for the same offense.

Throughout the process, the defendant has the right to an attorney, even if they cannot afford one. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a fair and speedy trial, which includes the right to confront witnesses and present a defense.

Remember that this is a simplified overview. Trials can be more nuanced depending on your circumstances. If you are facing criminal charges, consider seeking legal counsel who may guide you through the specific details of your case.