Joshua T. Crain Law Blog

Circuit or Sessions? The Difference Matters

One of the most important questions I ask when I consult with a potential client is “What court is your case currently in?” Oftentimes, people unfamiliar with the legal system don’t really know how to answer that question. Sometimes, if they have made at least one court appearance before calling me, they can tell me what floor they were on in the courthouse, or what judge they were in front of, at least by description if not by name. From there, if I have nothing else to work from, I can usually figure it out. But why this is important is something prospective clients need to understand, regardless of what lawyer you talk to.

In Tennessee there is a dual-tiered court system at the “trial court” level. There is General Sessions Court and there is Circuit Court. Though cases can originate in both courts, the rules that apply and the information available is different. General Sessions Court is not considered a “court of record” and the rules governing discovery (the process by which defendants are made aware of the evidence against them) do not apply! You read that correctly!! A defendant in General Sessions Court will often be forced to make decisions without the benefit of even knowing the evidence the State has, or doesn’t have against them. Most of the “evidence” in General Sessions Court is testimonial. In other words, a police officer or private citizen says that a particular thing happened, but they are not required to provide any evidence they might have to support what they say. Sometimes General Sessions Court is referred to as “small court” because there are no jury trials and the General Sessions Courts do not have final jurisdiction over felony offenses. However, there is nothing small about working cases in General Sessions Court and an attorney should work a case there with the same passion and dogged pursuit of justice that they would employ in Circuit Court. Because General Sessions Court functions the way it does, it is less expensive to handle cases there. Now, this is not a universal truth covering all lawyers. But at Crain Law the seriousness of the charge does not factor in as heavily in determining the attorney fee. Whether you are charged with Simple Possession of Marijuana or First Degree Murder, there is very little difference in my fee. That is because I know and understand how General Sessions Court works!

Circuit court, on the other hand, is a different animal altogether. If your case is in Circuit Court the rules apply differently. A defendant is entitled to discovery and their lawyer is supplied a copy of all of the evidence that the State intends to use against them at a jury trial. The lawyer has the ability to independently review the evidence, test the evidence, examine the evidence, and even have experts and investigators assist in understanding the evidence and gathering additional evidence that might assist the defendant. All of this is done so that a defendant can be fully prepared to face the charge or charges against them without surprise.

So, what do you get when you hire Joshua T. Crain as your attorney in either General Sessions or Circuit Court? Here’s what it looks like!



Ultimately, knowing the difference between General Sessions Court and Circuit Court will better equip a person accused of crime in understanding what is possible and why. A good attorney will explain this and offer their experience in guiding you through a difficult time. At Crain Law, that’s what we do!