A criminal conviction in the state of Tennessee can have serious consequences. Under Tennessee law, for instance, misdemeanors are punishable up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, and the minimum punishment for a felony is one year. Punishment and sentencing for Tennessee crimes are set out in Titles 39 and 40 of the Tennessee Code Annotated. In addition to jail time and fines, there may be other consequences of a criminal conviction such as loss of a job or inability to find future employment.
The easiest way for a defendant to get a charge removed from their record in Tennessee is through a dismissal. This means that the case is dimissed, or the charges dropped, and there is no further prosecution. However, if prosecutors have what they feel is a solid case, then no amount of pleading, negotiating or arguing will persuade them to simply drop the charges. Like a lot of things in life, it’s a give and take process. If the defendant does x, the state may do y, such as agree to a dismissal.
Take a Tennessee shoplifting charge, for example. Under Tennessee law there is a provision called merchant restitution, which is codified in Title 39, Chapter 14, Part 1 of the Tennessee Code Annotated. Merchant restitution allows for a store that has been the victim of theft to accept restitution from the accused in lieu of prosecution. The accused pays the store an amount based on the value of the merchandise taken, the store confirms in writing that it has received payment and does not want to press
charges, and the case can then be dismissed.
Another example is with domestic violence cases. Where I practice in Memphis, domestic violence cases will often be dismissed if the accused has no prior record and attends anger management classes. The Memphis prosecutor’s office has set up a referral program where domestic violence defendants can go to a family counseling center called the Exchange Club, located at 2180 Union Avenue in Memphis. Defendants can take an eight-session anger management class there, and then have the case dismissed.
If the case is dismissed through one of these methods, an expungement order can be prepared for the judge to sign. An expungement order authorizes the destruction of all public records relating to the offense, including police reports and court documents. This is the process of actually removing the charge from someone’s record; a dismissal simply means the charge has been dismissed but it still may show up. An expungement erases it completely from your public record.
Another way to secure a dismissal and expungement of a criminal case is through a process called diversion. Diversion is a Tennessee law, found in Title 40, Chapter 35 of the Tennessee Code, that allows qualified first-time offenders to go on probation. After the individual has completed probation and completed all their obligations, such as paying court costs and fines, or completing classes, the charge will be dismissed and they may have it expunged. Having a dismissal without diversion is the easiest and least expensive way to dispose of a case, but that option isn’t always available. It’s going to depend on the type of charge and the district attorney’s policy. When an outright dismissal isn’t available, diversion is the next option.
The more serious the charge, the harder it will be for it to be removed from your record. Violent offenses such as armed robbery and murder are rarely, if ever, going to be dismissed, and under Tennessee law are not eligible for diversion. Misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, however, may be taken off through one of the methods I previously mentioned.
About the only other option for having a Tennessee criminal charge removed from your record is to go to trial and be found not guilty. A verdict of not guilty will allow the individual to have all public records of the case expunged. A conviction, however, whether through a guilty plea or a verdict of guilty following trial, cannot be expunged. I am frequently asked by people with a criminal conviction if they can get it removed from their record. My answer is always no. The case has to be dismissed. Being charged is one thing, but being convicted is a whole different matter. Convictions are permanent, unless you can get a pardon from the governor or some other extraordinary relief.