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Tennessee Criminal Charges: How to Keep Them Off Your Record

Article by Patrick Stegall

If you’ve been charged with a crime in the state of Tennessee you may be wondering how to keep it from going on your record permanently. There are only a few ways to do this, and it’s going to depend on factors such as your prior criminal background (if any) and the type of charge and facts surrounding it. There are no guarantees that a charge can be removed. You’re going to need a competent attorney, a willingness to do what it takes to help yourself, and maybe a bit of luck.

Where I practice in Memphis, Tennessee the easiest way for a defendant to get a charge removed from their record is through a dismissal. This means that the case is dimissed, or the charges dropped, and there is no further prosecution. Prosecutors, however, are not in the habit of just dismissing cases. If they’ve got what they feel is a solid case, then no amount of pleading, negotiating or arguing will persuade them to simply drop the charges. However, 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.

Some examples. Often on shoplifting cases the prosecution will agree to dismiss if the store does not want to press charges, the merchandise was recovered undamaged, and the defendant pays restitution and court costs. Domestic violence cases will frequently be dismissed if the accused attends an anger management course and pays court costs. Charges such as trespassing or disorderly conduct may be dismissed on the first court date by simply paying costs.

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 cases in Memphis-area courts is through a process called diversion.

Diversion is a Tennessee law 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 criminal charge in Tennessee 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 Tennessee 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.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Tennessee, you should explore all your options for removing it from your record. An experienced Memphis criminal defense lawyer can help with this.

About the Author

Patrick Stegall is a Memphis, Tennessee criminal lawyer. Please visit his website at

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