Picture this: you’re relaxing at home when a letter arrives in your mailbox, informing you that you’ve been charged with a crime and must appear in court on a specific date. You’re stunned and perplexed since you’ve never been arrested or questioned by the police. Can this really happen?
The short answer is yes, you can be charged with a crime without ever being arrested in Tennessee. While it might seem unjust, it’s a reality. In this blog post, we will discuss the circumstances that can lead to this outcome, provide guidance on what to do if it happens to you, and explain your rights under Tennessee law.
The Two Main Ways You Can Be Charged Without Being Arrested in Tennessee
There are two primary methods for being charged with a crime without an arrest in Tennessee: receiving a citation or having a warrant issued against you.
Citation: More Than Just a Traffic Ticket
A citation is an official document that asserts you have been charged with a specific offense and mandates your appearance in court at a designated date and time. Citations are typically issued for minor infractions, such as traffic violations, shoplifting, or public intoxication. If a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe you committed the crime, which constitutes a misdemeanor and is not a DUI offense and the crime occurs in the officer’s presence, the officer will usually opt to issue a citation instead of arresting you.
A DUI, unlike most misdemeanors, requires an actual arrest because it is recognized as a continuing crime so there will generally be a four (4) hour hold in detention. However, a DUI may result in a citation if the defendant was admitted to a hospital or detained for medical treatment for a period of three (3) hours or more for injuries resulting from the DUI accident.
Similarly, a domestic assault will require an arrest, rather than a citation, to ensure the safety of the other individual involved.
It’s essential to understand that a citation doesn’t equate to guilt. It merely signifies that there’s sufficient evidence to charge you, and you retain the right to defend yourself in court. There are numerous issues that may result in the citation against you being dismissed for lack of specificity within the citation itself to find probable cause of the offense within the four (4) corners of the document. However, in such a scenario, your lawyer should discuss the possibility of the officer reissuing a warrant for your arrest to strategically decide how to handle such a situation.
Warrants in Tennessee
A warrant is a judicial order authorizing the arrest of an individual suspected of a crime. Warrants are issued based on affidavits from police officers or prosecutors who present probable cause for believing the person committed the offense.
Receiving a warrant doesn’t mean an arrest has occurred; it simply means the individual can be arrested by any law enforcement officer who locates them.
In some cases, warrants are issued without the suspect’s knowledge due to reasons such as witness protection, preventing escape, preserving evidence, or simply bureaucratic indifference in an officer effectuating the arrest on the active warrant. In these instances, the person may remain unaware of the charges against them until they are arrested or contacted by law enforcement. Unfortunately, an individual can be arrested at any time if there is an active warrant for their arrest including, but not limited to, at their workplace, house, child’s school, or the most common scenario is a routine traffic stop for a traffic violation where the officer runs your information and learns there is a warrant for your arrest.
Types of Warrants in Tennessee
There are several types of warrants in Tennessee, each with its unique characteristics and legal implications:
- Arrest Warrant: Issued when a law enforcement officer or prosecutor has probable cause to believe the individual has committed a specific crime.
- Bench Warrant: Issued by a judge when an individual fails to appear in court as required, or when they violate the conditions of their probation or parole.
- Search Warrant: Authorizes law enforcement officers to search a specific location for evidence related to a crime.
- Extradition Warrant: Issued when an individual is wanted for a crime in another state or country.
Steps to Take If Charged Without Being Arrested in Tennessee
If you discover that you’ve been charged without an arrest in Tennessee, stay calm and follow these steps:
- Consult an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Your attorney can inform you of your rights, help you prepare for court, and represent your best interests throughout the legal process.
- Do not ignore or evade your citation or warrant. Failure to appear in court may result in additional charges, fines, jail time, or driver’s license suspension.
- Avoid discussing your case with anyone but your attorney, as these conversations could be used against you in court. This includes conversations with friends, family, co-workers, or social media contacts.
- Refrain from admitting guilt or providing statements to law enforcement without your attorney present. You have the right to remain silent and to have your attorney represent you during questioning by law enforcement.
- Call a local bondsman to prepare to turn yourself in on the active warrant so the bondsman can immediately bond you out once bond is set by the magistrate judge after you are booked.
Contact Barnes & Fersten for Skilled Legal Representation
Facing criminal charges can be daunting and confusing, but it doesn’t mean you’re out of options. With over 20 years of combined experience, Barnes & Fersten Law Firm exclusively handle defending clients facing criminal charges in Knoxville, TN, and the surrounding areas. Our team excels in handling criminal defense matters, tirelessly fighting to protect your rights and freedom. If you require legal assistance for any criminal matter, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.
Attorney At Law, Managing Partner
Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUI, criminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.