Criminal Defense Information

State Cases : Federal Cases

STATE CASES – GENERALLYCriminal Defense Information

Generally, a person charged with a State crime in Tennessee will be brought to Court in one of two ways, via a General Sessions Warrant or a Citation.

If a person is arrested and taken into custody by law enforcement, they are brought before a magistrate for booking where an arrest warrant affidavit (called a General Sessions Warrant), is sworn out and a bond is set. In the alternative, sometimes citizens are charged with a crime but are not taken in to custody. In this situation, a person is issued a Citation by a law enforcement officer and is allowed to turn themselves in for booking at a later time. The General Sessions Warrant and the Citation are the charging instruments that essentially begin a criminal proceeding against a citizen.

Once a person has been booked on either a General Sessions Warrant or a Citation, a General Sessions Court date is set for the purpose of conducting a hearing to determine if there is “probable cause” to believe that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed the crime. This hearing is called a “Preliminary Hearing” and is one of the most important hearings available to a defendant. At a Preliminary Hearing valuable information can be obtained and the State’s witnesses are cross-examined by defense counsel. During this hearing, a good criminal defense attorney can learn much about a case and possibly commit (trap) the State’s witnesses to testimony that is very favorable to a defendant. In addition, a criminal defense lawyer will use the Preliminary Hearing to prepare for other future hearings such as a Bond Hearing or a Suppression Hearing. Thus, it is gravely important that a defendant be represented by a well-prepared and experienced criminal defense attorney at the earliest stage of the prosecution, the Preliminary Hearing.

The time to secure representation for you or your loved one is well before a Preliminary Hearing is held by the Court. If you or a loved one is set to have a Preliminary Hearing, contact Haymaker & Heroux, P.C. so that you can secure the best criminal defense at the earliest stages of the proceedings and increase your chances of success. Do not go it alone, we are here to assist you.

At the end of a Preliminary Hearing the General Sessions Judge will make a determination as to whether the State has met their burden of showing that there is “probable cause” to believe that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed the crime. Probable cause is a very low standard, and most Preliminary Hearings result in a finding that “probable cause” does exist. When this happens the case is then bound over to the Grand Jury. However, if a General Sessions Judge determines that the State has not met their burden of showing “probable cause,” the case is dismissed. At this time, most defendants, if they are in the custody of the Sheriff, are released; or if they are on a bonded release, the conditions of bond are lifted and the defendant is free to go on their way. However, even where the General Sessions Judge dismisses a charge after finding that the State has failed to meet its burden of showing probable cause, the prosecution can go directly to the Grand Jury in what is called a “Direct Presentment.”

Whether a case gets to the Grand Jury by being bound over after a Preliminary Hearing or by a Direct Presentment, it is the function of the Grand Jury to make a determination of whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and whether the defendant committed the crime. If the Grand Jury finds that there is probable cause, a True Bill is issued by the Grand Jury and an “Indictment” is prepared by the Office of the District Attorney.

An “Indictment” is the formal charging instrument which confers jurisdiction over the case to the Criminal or Circuit Court. Once an Indictment is issued, a defendant must appear before the Criminal or Circuit Court for “Arraignment.” “Arraignment” is the formal charging of a defendant in a Court of record for a crime committed in violation of State law. At this point, the Court will issue a scheduling order telling a defendant when certain filings must be made and the various dates on which the defendant must appear before the Court. In addition, some Courts will set the trial date at the Arraignment, while other Courts will set the trial date only after the prosecution and the criminal defense attorney have had an opportunity to discuss the case.

As the Arraignment marks the beginning of the prosecution of a defendant in the Criminal or Circuit Court, it is important to have a defense attorney present who is familiar with the case. Once a defendant is arraigned and the filing deadlines set, it is imperative to have a defense lawyer working for you. The time for filing motions and discovery requests comes fast, and having an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side will increase the likelihood of being successful in the preparation of your criminal defense.

At some point, a criminal case will either be dismissed, Nolled, retired, plea bargained, or tried. If a case is dismissed, Nolled, or retired, it is likely due to a criminal defense attorney’s preparation and ability to illuminate to the prosecution some previously unknown weakness in the State’s case. If a case is one that is going to trial, the better prepared your criminal defense lawyer, the greater the likelihood you will be successful at trial. While no criminal defense lawyer can guarantee the outcome of a criminal trial, it is fair to say that preparation and trial experience are two ingredients which increase the odds of a successful criminal litigation. On the other hand, if a case is one that will be plea bargained, the preparation of a criminal defense attorney will increase the likelihood of a favorable plea bargain. The key is that preparation, which should begin prior to the Preliminary Hearing and should continue through the resolution of a case, allows the criminal defense attorney the opportunity to recognize the strengths and exploit the weaknesses of the State’s case.

Haymaker & Heroux, P.C., uses a team mentality to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a case to develop a defense strategy that will optimize the likelihood of reaching a successful resolution.

If you or a loved one is charged with a State crime, contact Haymaker & Heroux. Time is of the essence and the preparation of a successful criminal defense begins at the earliest stages of a criminal case. If we are not able assist you, we will be happy to refer you to other criminal defense resources.


Generally, a person charged with a Federal Crime comes before the Federal Court in one of two ways. More often than not, a person is arrested on State criminal charges and then their case is referred by the State District Attorney’s Office to the United States Attorney’s Office. These cases are usually the result of State and local law enforcement, sometimes acting in concert with Federal Law Enforcement (FBI, DEA, ATF), making an arrest which leads to the discovery of a large scale criminal operation or a substantial quantity of drugs. In addition, many State cases involving the possession of a weapon are referred to the Federal authorities under a Federal/State initiative called, “Project Safe Neighborhood.” This initiative seeks to punish under the Federal system persons who have had prior felonies and/or weapons charges in the State system and who are again found in possession of a weapon.

When a person is charged in the Federal System, whether brought in on State charges that are referred to the Federal authorities or as a result of a Federal Investigation, a “Federal Criminal Complaint” is filed with the Federal Magistrate and an arrest warrant is issued. The “Federal Criminal Complaint” is the initial charging instrument in the Federal System. However, a citizen may also be brought into the Federal System after being Indicted by the Federal Grand Jury. If a citizen is brought into the Federal System by way of a “Federal Indictment,” the Indictment is the initial charging instrument in the Federal System.

A person charged Federally, whether by way of a Federal Criminal Complaint or a Federal Indictment, will be brought before a Federal Magistrate Judge for an “Initial Appearance.” The “Initial Appearance” is usually held within 24 hours of being taken into Federal Custody. At the Initial Appearance the Magistrate Judge will explain to the person, now a defendant, the nature of the charges alleged, the maximum imprisonment and/or fine for the charges alleged and some very important rights possessed by the defendant. Further, the Federal Magistrate Judge will set the time for further hearings which may be necessary.

If the defendant is charged by way of a Federal Criminal Complaint, the Federal Magistrate will set a “Preliminary Hearing” within 10 days of the “Initial Appearance” if the defendant is in custody, or 20 days of the “Initial Appearance” if the defendant is not in custody. If the defendant is charged by way of a Federal Indictment, no Preliminary Hearing is available, and the Magistrate Judge will set a date for the defendant to appear for an Arraignment. In addition, at the Initial Appearance the Government (the Prosecution) may make a motion to the Court to have the defendant remain in custody pending trial. If this happens, the Magistrate Judge will set a “Detention Hearing” usually within 3 days of the “Initial Appearance.” If a Detention Hearing and a Preliminary Hearing are necessary, they are usually set for the same time.

The Federal Preliminary Hearing is a very valuable opportunity to learn about the defendant’s case. An experienced criminal defense attorney can use the “Preliminary Hearing” to set up subsequent hearings, obtain reports from the Government’s witnesses, and lock down witnesses’ testimony. As such, time is of the essence, and valuable opportunities can be lost by failing to secure an attorney experience with Federal Criminal Defense in the early stages of a case. Haymaker & Heroux, P.C. is a Nashville based criminal defense law firm with years of experience in handling Federal Criminal Cases.

Once a defendant has been Arraigned, the timing of a case becomes critical. A defendant has a right to be tried within 70 days of Arraignment and can not be required to go to trial less than 30 from the Initial Appearance. A criminal defendant has a right to receive discoverable materials within a certain amount of time to facilitate trial preparation. The time for preparing for trial goes by quickly. A good defense requires that your criminal defense lawyer be aware of deadlines and be able to take advantage of these deadlines.

If you or a loved one is charged with a Federal Crime, contact the Office of Haymaker & Heroux, so that we may discuss your case. The consultation is free, and if we can not help you, we will gladly refer you to other criminal defense resources. Let the team of Haymaker & Heroux help you and your loved ones.

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