Make the Right Choice for Your Defense
When you have been charged with a crime, experience and compassion matter. You are innocent unless proven guilty, and we have experience ensuring that our clients are treated fairly by the government. We aggressively defend individuals charged with a wide range of state and federal crimes. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, we are here to help and we will rigorously defend your rights.
If I am convicted, how is the sentence determined?
Conviction of a crime can occur by a trial verdict or by reaching a plea agreement with the state or federal government. In many cases, the client faces a potential sentence of incarceration, fine and/or a term of probation supervision. This decision is made by a judge. This is known as a sentencing hearing and often times this is the most important and consequential effort of your attorney. This is where the rubber meets the road and your attorney better have a good idea of what the judge needs to know about you and what arguments exist to keep you out of jail. Experience counts. We pride ourselves on presenting the most creative alternatives to incarceration and putting forth the most forceful arguments and evidence to give you the best chance for the lowest sentence achievable.
Many states and the Federal Government have implemented sentencing guidelines, which limit the judge’s discretion to order a reduced sentence in certain serious cases. We are highly trained in this area of complex law. The trend for many years has been the creation of minimum sentencing laws which guarantee that certain criminal acts result in a minimum sentence of imprisonment, without regard to the individual characteristics of the client. The skill and experience of your lawyer can make the difference when it comes to negotiating a plea agreement which keeps the sentencing range low and avoids high minimum mandatory penalties. Of course, we are courtroom lawyers too and when the time comes to have a judge or jury decide your case at a trial, we are in your corner.
What is the difference between general sessions and criminal court?
If you have been charged with a crime in the State of Tennessee, your case will most likely begin in the General Sessions Court. There are limited circumstances under which a case will begin at the Criminal Court level, but the first court appearance in most criminal cases is in General Sessions Court.
The General Sessions Court is a court of limited jurisdiction. This means that the General Sessions Court only has the authority to adjudicate (make a formal finding of guilt and/or otherwise dispose of a case) when the case involves a misdemeanor charge. The General Sessions Court does not have the authority to adjudicate a felony. Rather, it only has the jurisdiction (power) to conduct a preliminary hearing where felony charges are involved. Thus, unless your attorney is able to negotiate an agreement that involves a plea to a reduced charge (misdemeanor), you must choose between having a preliminary hearing or waiving your right to a hearing and allowing the case to proceed to the grand jury for review. A grand jury only decides whether to charge a crime in Criminal Court. The grand jury makes no decision on guilt or innocence. That decision is made by either a judge or petit jury at a trial. Of course, most cases do not get to trial and are either dismissed or reduced by some sort of a plea agreement.
If an individual has been charged with a misdemeanor offense, he or she may enter a plea of guilty and receive a sentence from the General Sessions Court. If the same individual seeks to persist in a plea of not guilty and exercise his or her right to a jury trial, a preliminary hearing can be conducted in the General Sessions Court to determine whether there is sufficient probable cause for the case to proceed to the grand jury. A third option for one charged with a misdemeanor offense would be to seek a bench trial in the General Sessions Court.
A bench trial in General Sessions Court does not involve a jury. The judge will act as the finder of fact in addition to applying the law in the case. In order to proceed with a bench trial in General Sessions Court, it is necessary that the State and the Defense agree to a trial on the merits. If the Judge finds the defendant not guilty, then the matter is closed. If the judge finds the defendant guilty, then the defendant has a right to appeal to the Circuit/Criminal Court. The right to appeal is de novo which means that the case essentially starts anew thus requiring a new trial if the defendant persists in a plea of not guilty.
In short, the General Sessions Court offers four basic options for those accused of a misdemeanor and three for those accused of a felony. The options for misdemeanor offenses are (1) plead guilty, (2) have a bench trial, (3) have a preliminary hearing, or (4) waive the right to a preliminary hearing and agree to have the case bound over to the grand jury. In the case of a felony, the options are (1) plead to a reduced charge (misdemeanor), (2) have a preliminary hearing, or (3) waive the right to a preliminary hearing and agree to have the case bound over to the grand jury.
The criminal justice process is confusing and complex. If you or a loved one gets involved in the criminal justice system, call us for a free consultation. This call might make all the difference.
How are crimes classified in Tennessee?
Chapter 39 of the Tennessee Code Annotated defines the different types of crimes in Tennessee. Crimes are generally classified as felonies, misdemeanors, and capital crimes. Capital crimes are punishable by death or life imprisonment and include murder, arson, rape, and kidnapping.
Felony crimes and their maximum terms and fines are categorized as follows:
- Class A felonies: Not more than 60 years in prison and up to $50,000 fine
- Class B felonies: Not more than 30 years in prison and up to $25,000 fine
- Class C felonies: Not more than 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 fine
- Class D felonies: Not more than 12 years in prison and up to $5,000 fine
- Class E felonies: Not more than six years in prison and up to $3,000 fine
A Tennessee misdemeanor carries the following maximum terms and fines:
- Class A misdemeanors: Not more than 11 months, 29 days in prison and up to $2,500 fine
- Class B misdemeanors: Not more than six months in jail and up to $500 fine
- Class C misdemeanors: Not more than 30 days in jail and up to $50 fine
Misdemeanors can include simple possession, assault, shoplifting/theft under $1000, vandalism, and trespassing.
We handle many state & federal crimes, including but not limited to:
- Driving Under the Influence
- Juvenile Offenses
- Drug Offenses
- Assault & Battery
- Capital Offenses (Murder)
- Probation Violations
- Weapon Offenses
- Other Misdemeanors and Felonies
Get a Fair Settlement
Seeking compensation for being hurt in an accident or being injured by the wrongful conduct of another is a very big deal. The laws are complex and the task difficult, but we have the skills and experience to maximize the available compensation and help you return to normal. We know how to do battle with insurance companies and outrageous hospital expenses. We engage in tough negotiations with medical providers to lower the cost of reimbursements and put more money in your pockets. We never charge a penny for consultations and we are compensated only if and when you win.
What is my case worth?
Determining the value of an injury case is complicated and we can help. The following factors should be considered:
- How much pain and suffering have the injuries caused
- Whether the client will have permanent disability
- Was the accident or injuries caused by extremely reckless or dangerous conduct
- What sources of insurance money is available to pay for the client’s injuries
- Was the client partially at fault
- How much are the medical bills and what is the likelihood of future medical bills
How long do I have to file a personal injury action?
Tennessee law requires cases to be filed within a certain time period. This time period is called the “statute of limitations.” In most personal injury cases, the lawsuit must be filed and served within 1 year of the date of the accident.
What is the maximum I can recover in Tennessee for my injuries?
In Tennessee, non-economic damages are capped at $750,000 per person (except for some severe injuries, which are capped at $1 million). Tennessee also places a cap on punitive damages in the amount of $500,000, or twice the amount of the compensatory damages (economic plus non-economic damages) awarded, whichever is greater.
Economic damages are compensation you receive as a result of monetary losses you suffer because of an accident. They may include medical bills, lost income, property damage, loss of earning capacity, vocational rehabilitation, household services, and out-of-pocket costs.
Non-economic damages include pain and suffering.
What if I am partially responsible for the accident?
Tennessee follows the “modified comparative fault rule,” which reduces the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover by their degree of fault. What’s more, if the plaintiff is determined to be 50% or more at fault, the plaintiff is barred from recovering ANY damages.
We handle many accident and injury cases, including but not limited to those pertaining to:
- Accidental Death
- Back or Neck Injuries
- Boating Accidents
- Brain Injuries
- Insurance Disputes
- Traffic Accidents
- Slip and Fall
- Prison & Jail Abuse
- Police Brutality & Misconduct
- Medical Malpractice
- Nursing Home Neglect
Get the Right Help for You
We understand family law issues are some of the most difficult to navigate because they are complex and emotional. We pride ourselves on being compassionate, knowledgeable, accessible, and aggressive when needed. We promise to help make the best out of a stressful situation and fight for you.
How long will my divorce take?
In Tennessee, your divorce cannot be granted until at least sixty days (or ninety days if you and your ex-spouse have minor children) after filing your Complaint for Divorce. This minimum interval is also known as a “waiting period” or “cooling off period.” The waiting period is designed to give you time to thoroughly think about whether or not you really want to go through with your divorce. It also gives you time to negotiate a settlement with your spouse.
A highly contested divorce can take several months to resolve even after the “waiting period” has expired. This is because of the need to engage in discovery (the formal process of exchanging information between the parties about the witnesses and evidence they’ll present at trial) and attend a mediation which is a prerequisite to trial.
We can guide you through the process because we have handled hundreds of divorces ranging from simple to extremely complex.
Who has custody of the kids?
Under Tennessee law, when a child is born to parents who are married to one another, the husband is the legal father of the child at birth. If the parents undergo a divorce, the presumption is that the parents are entitled to joint custody. In a divorce, a parenting plan is either negotiated or ordered by the court which dictates parenting time and parenting rights.
In the alternative, unmarried mothers who give birth automatically receive full custody of their child while unmarried fathers have to prove paternity. Once paternity is proven, however, fathers can assert their legal parental rights, which includes custody or parenting time if the couple lives apart. A parenting plan order is also established in this scenario.
It is important to understand that if you are unmarried merely signing your name as father on a birth certificate does not establish legal paternity in Tennessee. Regardless of whether you signed the birth certificate, you still have the ability to establish paternity under Tennessee Code § 36-2-305 by executing an agreement or acknowledgement, by court order, or by confirming paternity using a DNA test.
An unmarried father may petition a Tennessee family court for full or joint custody.
The primary factors judges consider include:
- The disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education, and other necessary care.
- The degree to which each parent has been the child’s primary caregiver.
- The love, affection and emotional ties between each parent and the child.
- Continuity in the child’s life and length of time he/she has lived in a stable environment.
- Stability of the family unit of each parent.
- Mental and physical health of each parent.
- The child’s home, school, and community record.
- The reasonable preference of the child if he/she is at least 12 years old.
- Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or any other person.
- The character and behavior of anyone else who resides in or frequents the parent’s home and their interactions with the child.
- Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities, including the willingness and ability of each parent to foster a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and both parents.
What about alimony?
When considering whether or not to award alimony, a judge will consider the following:
- each spouse’s earning capacity, obligations, needs, and financial resources (including pensions and retirement accounts)
- each spouse’s education and training, and each spouse’s ability to obtain the education and training necessary to find employment and increase earning capacity
- the length of the marriage
- the age and mental condition of each spouse
- the physical condition of both spouses, including physical and chronic illness
- whether either spouse is the custodial parent of a child whose circumstances make it difficult to obtain employment outside of the home
- each spouse’s separate assets
- marital property division in the divorce
- whether either spouse contributed (monetarily or nonmonetary) to the marriage, or to the other’s education, training, or increased earning power
- marital fault, and
- any other factor, such as tax implications, the court finds relevant. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121 (i))
The court doesn’t place emphasis on any single factor, and the judge will use broad discretion when creating a final award. If you and your spouse prefer to have control over the amount, type, and duration of alimony, you can negotiate and create a settlement together. As long as the agreement is fair to both spouses, the court will honor it.
In Tennessee, there are several types of alimony that can be awarded but rehabilitative alimony is the preferred type. The purpose of rehabilitative alimony is to allow a spouse the opportunity to increase earning capacity by attending school, job training, or acquiring other essential skills that will lead to finding employment and achieving financial independence. Although complete financial freedom may not be possible, the goal is for the supported spouse to be rehabilitated enough to establish a standard of living as close to the marital standard as possible. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121(e).)
If you are going through a divorce and are in desperate need of financial support, we can also help you by requesting pendente lite support, which is intended to provide you financial support while the divorce is pending.
We handle many family law issues, including but not limited to:
- Contested and Uncontested Divorces
- Orders of Protection
- Custody Disputes
- Paternity Petitions
- Spousal Support/Alimony
- Parenting Plans and Modifications
- Dependency and Neglect/Emergency Custody
- Child Support
Giving Victim’s a Voice
Under the Constitutions of the United States and Tennessee, incarcerated persons are entitled to reasonable medical care and humane treatment. Spurrell & Studer is sensitive to these rights and we hold public officials and law enforcement officers to account for abuse and neglect of persons they are required to protect. We have represented numerous clients whose family members have died while in police custody or in jail. We currently represent clients who have suffered terrible injury as a result of jailhouse abuse and medical neglect. These cases require lawyers willing to work hard and fearlessly against the powers of government seeking to deny clients the basic rights of decency and safety. We are careful about the cases we take, but we look forward to reviewing each potential case in detail with you at no cost.
What is the Tennessee Government Tort Liability Act?
In 1973, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (T.C.A. § 29-20-101 et seq.) (“GTLA”), providing that counties (and the people that work for them, including police officers and other jail staff) are immune under state law from all suits arising out of their activities, either governmental or proprietary, unless immunity is specifically removed by the law. The GTLA permits an injured person to make certain claims against a negligent act of a governmental employee. Those potential claims are in these categories:
- Claims arising from the negligent operation of motor vehicles;
- Claims arising from negligently constructing or maintaining streets, alleys or sidewalks;
- Claims arising from the negligent construction or maintenance of public improvements; and
- Claims arising from the negligence of county employees. T.C.A. §§ 29-20-202 through 29‑20‑205).
The Tennessee Supreme Court has fairly recently decided that a police officer can be held responsible for money damages to a victim of a police beating or excessive force. Call us if you or a family member has been injured from an act of excessive force or neglect by any government or county employee.
What is a section 1983 lawsuit?
A section 1983 lawsuit is a civil rights lawsuit. It can be filed by someone whose civil rights have been violated. The victim can file the lawsuit if the wrongdoer was acting “under color of law.” People act under “color of law” when they behave with the apparent authority of the state or federal government. While on the job, police officers and jail guards act under color of state law. 1983 actions, as they are known, are difficult to win and we are careful in choosing those cases where your chances of winning a verdict are solid. If you or a family member has been subjected to a very significant and shocking level of abuse or neglect, a 1983 action may be warranted. Call us and we will review the case very carefully.
We handle many issues related to police misconduct and jail abuse:
- Excessive Force
- Denial of Medical Care While Incarcerated
- Injuries and Deaths While Incarcerated
- Government Tort Liability Act Claims for Public Employee Negligence
- Federal 1983 Actions for Deprivation of Civil Rights