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Tennessee Criminal Sentencing: Glossary of Terms

Criminal law sentencing can be very complicated in Tennessee. Even experienced criminal law attorneys must consult several sections of the Tennessee Code in order to properly advise clients. If you’ve never been in trouble before, it is even easier to get confused by the words that criminal lawyers and judges use when discussing possible sentence options for criminal defendants. Some of the terms have specific legal meaning and some are more general. It would be impossible to discuss every term in a single blog post, but here are some of the most common:

  1. Probation: Probation can either be unsupervised or supervised. Probation can also be supervised by a county probation office or by the Tennessee Department of Probation and Parole depending on the seriousness of the offense and what court entered the judgment. Probation is a jail sentence that is suspended (not served) unless the criminal defendant breaks any rule of probation. Supervised probation can be very intense, have many rules, and will have additional costs.
  2. Diversion: Many first time, non-violent, offenders may qualify for diversion in Tennessee. It can be either pre-trial diversion or judicial diversion, though in Tennessee, the latter is most common. Tennessee Judicial Diversion allows a defendant to plead guilty, but the guilty plea is put on hold. The defendant is then ordered to do certain things and not to do certain things for a set time period. If the defendant complies with the order of the court, then at the end of the time period, the charge is dismissed and it can be expunged off of the defendant’s criminal record. There are some specific procedures and costs associated with diversion. Importantly, if you are charged with a DUI, you will not qualify for diversion.
  3. Split-Confinement: Generally, a split confinement is where part of a sentence is served in jail and part is served on probation. There are some technical parts of split confinement laws that make some sentences true “split confinements” versus a jail term with probation afterwards. A criminal lawyer can explain this better during representation where this sentencing option arises.
  4. Time Served: This usually arises where a defendant has already served some jail time before pleading or being found guilty. When a judge says that the sentence is “time served” the defendant usually does not have any further probation or jail sentence, but still owes the court costs.
  5. To Serve: This is very different than “time served.” This means that there is a jail sentence being imposed. Some judges will say that there is a jail sentence “to serve” and then suspend it to probation or good behavior. However, if the sentence is “to serve” without it being suspended, that means that the defendant is being given a period of incarceration. If the defendant has jail credit before the finding of guilt, it is possible, depending on several factors that the time already spent in jail will offset part of the jail sentence.
  6. Parole: Parole is a period of monitoring similar to probation. However, parole is only available after a person has been sentenced to serve a period of incarceration over 2 years in a Tennessee Department of Correction facility. After the person has served a percentage of the prison term, he or she may be eligible for parole. However, different criminal violations have different rules and parole is never guaranteed. Some criminal violations do not qualify for parole at all.
  7. Community Corrections: Community Corrections can be very complicated. Very briefly, Tennessee Community Corrections is designed for defendants that the courts, the legislature and the district attorney believe should be in prison. However, to keep the system moving without huge expense and to control prison population, the defendant is released under extremely strict rules and monitoring. A violation of community corrections can have very serious consequences. Any time community corrections is discussed, a defendant needs a detailed explanation from a criminal defense attorney to understand the program.
  8. Other Options: There are other options or requirements that can be part of a criminal sentence. Without naming all of them, those options can include drug court, drug treatment, boot camp, community service, fines, special restrictions on sex offenders, and special restrictions on people convicted of some methamphetamine crimes.

This is a very general list – and certainly not an exhaustive one – of terms that a criminal defendant may hear regarding criminal sentencing in Tennessee. As with all things in the law, some judges and lawyers may use these words differently depending on local practice. Criminal defendants should always understand what is happening in their case.

This brief overview should not be considered legal advice about Tennessee criminal sentencing and is intended to be general information. If you are charged with a crime and are pleading guilty or found guilty, it is very important that you understand your court sentence. Always clarify with the court or your criminal attorney what each part of a criminal sentence means. A Tennessee criminal lawyer should help you not only understand possible sentence options, but should make sure that you understand what happens after you are found guilty.

Call Today for a Free Consultation

If you have been charged with a crime, you deserve an experienced lawyer who will listen to your side of the story, explain Tennessee criminal sentencing, advise you on your rights and your best course of action, and represent your best interests in court. Contact George Maifair at The Lawyers of Brown & Roberto for a free consultation. Give us a call at (865) 691-2777 or contact us through our website Brown & Roberto, PLLC to set up a free consultation.

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