Felony Sentencing and Punishment

To a person who has never been through the criminal justice system, it may seem like an unfair system and in some respects it can be. There are many choices, and each has its merits and problems. First, the accused needs to know what those choices are. Then his or her lawyer shows him what makes the most sense in this case. Most cases mainly fit into either a fight about guilt or innocence or a struggle to make sure the punishment is fair.

General Sessions Court

In Tennessee, most cases begin in General Sessions Court. Once a reasonable bond has been set, you will be issued an arraignment date. On that date, the judge will inform you of the offense you are charged with and allow you reasonable time to hire an attorney. Your next court date is called a Plea Date. At this time, you need to have an attorney hired if you can afford one. Once you have an attorney, your case can be resolved in one of four ways-you could obtain a negotiated plea, bench trial, preliminary hearing, or a dismissal. Every case is different, and the outcome is dependent on the facts of your case. At Tull & Marshall, An Association of Attorneys we spend the time to counsel clients, negotiate their cases effectively, or prepare the case for trial.

Grand Jury Indictment

A person can demand that that their case be presented to the Grand Jury. If you chose to have your case presented to the Grand Jury, the Grand Jury will investigate your offense. An indictment is an accusation in writing presented by the grand jury that charges the person with a criminal offense. An indictment cannot be found without at least 12 grand jurors agreeing to indict.

Criminal Court (Circuit Court)

Once the defendant has been indicted by the Grand Jury, you are then assigned to Criminal Court and receive a Bond Arraignment date. On that date, you will be asked to either hire an attorney if you can afford one or you will be appointed an attorney. At this level, you may have a bench or jury trial or enter a negotiated guilty plea.

Offense Ranges

A person's offense range varies between mitigated to career offender. At sentencing, a judge will determine what range offender the defendant is (based upon his or her criminal record) and will sentence him or her according to the following:

A mitigated offender is an individual who has no prior offenses on their record.
A standard offender, Range I, has zero to one prior offenses.
A multiple offender, Range II, has two to four prior offenses.
A persistent offender, Range III, has five or more prior offenses.
A career offender has multiple prior felonies of varying classes.

Depending on what class of felony your criminal charge is, and what offense range you are convicted on, the judge will determine the range of years that one could be sentenced in such a case. Put simply, the seriousness of the offense figures in with the seriousness of the person's record to determine the sentence under the factors set out under Tennessee law.

Felony Class

The felony ranges between an E felony all the way up to an A felony.

An "A" felony may carry from 13.5 years to 60 years in prison, with no opportunity for parole.
A "B" felony may range from 7.2 years to 30 years in prison, with no opportunity for parole.
A "C" felony may carry from 2.7 years to 15 years in prison.
A "D" felony may range from 1.8 years to 12 years in prison.
An "E" felony may carry several months to 6 years in jail.


When determining a sentence, a judge will determine the felony class and the offense range of the defendant. From these factors the judge will determine how many years the defendant will receive. In sentencing, the judge has the option to sentence the defendant to prison, probation, or diversion.

Diversion is a program that is only available to first time offenders. This is a type of probation that will allow the criminal charge to be removed from the defendant's criminal record once the defendant has satisfactorily completed all the terms of the probation.

Probation is when a defendant receives a suspended sentence in lieu of time in prison. That means the defendant will be on probation for a pre-determined amount of time. The defendant will have to follow all of the orders of the court and the probation officer in order to successfully complete probation. If the defendant violates his or her probation, the court will hold a hearing in which it will either order the defendant serve his time in prison or return them to probation. In making this determination the Judge will examine several factors at a hearing to determine whether or not the defendant should receive probation. The factors are the nature of the offense, deterrent effect on the community, the need to protect the community, rehabilitation of the defendant, the defendant's prior criminal record, mitigating factors presented by the defense attorney, and enhancement factors presented by the state.

Consecutive vs. Concurrent Sentences

If a defendant has multiple charges, he may be sentenced to concurrent or consecutive time. If a defendant receives a concurrent sentence, then he or she will serve all their sentences at one time. If a defendant receives a consecutive sentence, then he or she will serve a sentence on one charge and once he or she completes that time then he or she will begin to serve the sentence on the next charge.

Three Strikes Rule

In Tennessee, three felony convictions can result in a life sentence without parole. Certain violent offenders who repeat violent offenses face life in prison without parole.

At Tull & Marshall, An Association of Attorneys we do not make value judgments of a client's past or present situation but rather ensure our clients are fully informed as to their maximum and minimum sentence exposure and what we find to be the strengths and weakness in the client's case. Once we determine the client is fully informed, we respect our client's wishes and will either seek the best possible plea agreement or move forward to trial. The client is always in control as to how we proceed. If you are facing criminal charges please give us a call at 615.530.5719 or contact by any of the means on the Contact Us page.

Notice to Immigrants

Immigrants: Never plead guilty to a criminal charge without consulting an attorney. Doing so will have serious consequences on your immigration status. Call our office at 615.530.5719 for an evaluation of your case if you have been charged with any crime.

Inmigrantes: Nunca se declare culpable de un cargo criminal sin consultar a un abogado. Si esto sucede, tendrá consecuencias graves sobre su estatus migratorio. Llame a nuestra oficina al 615.530.5719 para una evaluación de su caso si usted ha sido acusado de algún delito.