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Plea Agreements and the Potential Reduction of Consequences

That the burden of proving criminal action rests largely on the prosecution in Tennessee criminal cases does not mean that convictions are uncommon. In fact, from misdemeanor domestic assault to felony battery charges, there is a chance that long-term consequences for the defendant might be exacerbated by a criminal trial. In situations where a trial on the original charges is likely to lead to an undesirable outcome, many defendants choose to enter into a plea negotiation phase prior to setting a court date. 

The Tennessee State Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure allow for three basic types of pleas for criminal defense

  • Nolo contendre
  • Not guilty
  • Guilty

Defendants choose between these pleas based on the evidence available as well as other factors. It bears mentioning that some of the pleas require the approval of the court, some do not and yet others may be entered conditionally. An example of the latter would be a defense entering a guilty plea conditional on the behavior of the prosecution, usually as the result of a plea negotiation.

Tennessee law, like that of many other jurisdictions, takes a hierarchical view of the severity of the crime. This means that defendants might have the opportunity to plead guilty to a less severe crime than that alleged, a common goal of plea negotiations. An article from the University of Tennessee illustrates these gradations of criminal offenses, showing the progression of potential consequences allowed should the court find a defendant guilty of a given crime. 

Cases in which plea negotiation succeeds typically result in a more predictable outcome for the defendant. Furthermore, a reduction of a single grade might reduce punishment drastically, as is apparent from the University of Tennessee table.