The Tennessee Court system has many layers and consists of the Tennessee Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, a Court of Criminal Appeals, Circuit Courts, Chancery Courts, Probate Courts, Criminal Courts, Juvenile Courts, General Session Courts, and Municipal Courts.
The Supreme Court is the highest court for the state and the court of last resort. It has five justices serving the court. The Supreme Court can hear appeals from any of the lower courts and be the deciding factor with cases that come from either of the two Courts of Appeal. This court also deals with matters regarding the state Constitution.
The Supreme Court does not hold trials; they review oral arguments and briefs prepared by each side to determine if any errors were made during the initial trial. They hold sessions in Jackson, Knoxville, and Nashville but also other parts of the state if needed.
As part of a community outreach project, periodically, the Supreme Court visits schools and holds oral arguments for students to attend. The program is called the Supreme Court Advancing Legal Education for Students (SCALES). SCALES is aimed at educating high school students on the judicial system and getting them interested in a legal career.
Supreme Court Court of Appeals Court of Criminal Appeals Circuit Court Chancery Court Probate Court Criminal Court Juvenile Court General Session Court Municipal Court
The state allows most public records to be open to the general public. They have a search feature on their judicial branch website where users can review the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal cases and view all the documents and information. Users can also view quick links, process online payments, find out who the circuit court clerk is, and read decisions by the grand jury. However, as with most states, sealed, expunged, and juvenile records will not be available. This may include criminal and adoption records. Additionally, the federal government does not allow private or sensitive information to be contained in any files that are open to the public. Therefore, the Court Clerk must redact things like children’s names, bank account information, tax IDs, social security numbers, and other items before making the records public. Patrons can consult the clerk's office with questions about what is available.
Along with a list of forms to help patrons file cases in the state, the judicial branch website also includes links to cases of special interest like divorce-with-children forms, juvenile delinquency, mediation process forms, appeal claim forms, protection orders and others. They also provide guides for juvenile issues and veterans’ cases. The Volunteer State offers an e-filing option but only for appellate cases. All other cases must be filed in person at the courthouse with the Court Clerk. Fee schedules for filing most types of cases are posted on the judicial branch website.
You can use Infotracer to find TN records quickly and easily! All the major areas are covered, including state court cases from Shelby County, Davidson County, and Knox County. Thanks to the TN Open Records Act Tenn. CodeAnn. 10-7-503 et seq., we are able to offer a generous database full of criminal records, dockets, public records, case information, civil cases, trial court cases, family court issues like divorces and child support, bankruptcies, liens, traffic offenses, and more.
A TN state records search may be performed privately by anyone without providing any special access. The person searching doesn’t even need a reason to search except in cases where the record is kept confidential by law such as juvenile records.
The best way to use Infotracer is to employ a TN state public records name search to get instant free access to TN court records. The search will yield online court cases from TN circuit courts, chancery courts, probate courts, general session courts, and municipal courts in all 31 judicial districts.
Circuit Courts are the state's general jurisdiction courts. They hear both civil and criminal cases and appeals from the Juvenile Courts, General Sessions Courts, and Municipal Courts. Tennessee has 95 counties that are split up into 31 judicial districts. There are Circuit and Chancery Courts in each district. Circuit jurisdiction often overlaps with Chancery. Judges are elected into their seats and serve an eight-year term. These courts handle tort cases, contract disputes, real property cases of more than $50, probate cases, domestic relations, civil lawsuits, misdemeanors, civil appeals, and criminal matters.
The state has Chancery Courts in each judicial district. These are equity courts based on the Olde English system of justice where a chancellor was the “King’s conscience.” Judges who preside over These courts used to be called chancellors, and they have some leeway in how they apply the law to their cases. The types of cases handled in these courts are contract disputes, civil lawsuits, name changes, divorces, adoptions, workers’ compensation claims, tort cases, real property of more than $50, probate/estate cases and civil appeals. Most criminal issues are taken to Circuit rather than Chancery courthouses.
To further compartmentalize the justice system, the legislature created Probate Courts to have jurisdiction over probate matters, wills and the administration of estates. These courts can also handle cases of conservatorships and guardianships. The state has only two Probate Courts in district 30. These judges are elected into office and serve eight-year terms. These courts do not use juries; they hold only bench trials with the judge making all the decisions.
As part of an effort to alleviate the caseload of Circuit Courts, the legislature of the state created Criminal Courts. Only some judicial districts have Criminal Courts where the workload is heavy. These types of courts hear all criminal cases of misdemeanors, felonies, and all other criminal offenses. These courts do use jury trials. These courts also hear misdemeanor appeals from some lower courts. In those districts without one of these courts, these types of cases are tried in Circuit Courts. These court judges are elected into office and serve eight-year terms.
The state has 98 Juvenile Courts with 109 judges and 45 magistrates presiding. Seventeen of these courts are designated “Private Act.” The remaining 81 courts are General Session Courts with juvenile jurisdiction. Most of these courts are county-based except for Bristol and Johnson City. Each of the 95 counties has one of these courts. Each court's rules, case management, administrative process, and procedures vary widely. There is no state-wide standardization for these types of courts. Instead, they are set up expressly to serve the needs of the families living in those regions.
Tennessee’s General Sessions Courts are limited jurisdiction courts that vary by county based on private acts and state laws. General Sessions Courts serve both civil and criminal cases. However, they do not use jury trials, only bench trials where the judge makes the decision. These courts handle landlord/tenant disputes, mental health cases, small claims of up to $25,000, divorces, child custody matters, misdemeanors, preliminary hearings for felonies, juvenile matters and traffic or local ordinance violations. Some General Sessions judges also serve Juvenile Courts. They are elected into office and serve eight-year terms.
Tennessee’s Municipal Courts are the local courts, often called “city courts,” with limited jurisdiction. Their focus is on violations of local municipal ordinances. The most common type of case in Municipal Courts are traffic violations. Other types of cases are high grass and dogs running loose, where the public safety and welfare is at stake. Municipal Courts have the authority to impose fines of $50-$500 on offenders. Both the Municipal Court judge and Court Clerk are appointed by the Governor or may be elected, depending upon the municipality.