Tennessee is an open records jurisdiction and allows name-based searches for records of criminal arrests, charges and convictions by anyone. The central repository of criminal records is the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Information Systems Division. It is one of the five operating divisions under the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). The Information Systems Division is responsible for gathering and maintaining all criminal records for the state. Tennessee criminal records include Tennessee arrests, charges, guilty pleas and convictions.
In Tennessee, a guilty plea is a conviction of a crime, along with judicial decisions and jury verdicts of guilt. Tennessee also provides fingerprint-based searches that carry a much higher degree of reliability as to the identity and accuracy of the information. Fingerprint based searches must be authorized by the individual or by a person or organization with the right to access the system. These include searches related to employment background checks and security.
In the state of Tennessee, records of conviction have no termination date; they are permanent. They will remain in the records of the court that heard the case, and they will remain in the central statewide system of criminal records of the TBI. One can only withdraw a conviction from public access by judicial action such as correction or expungement.
The state accepts applications from employers and organizations whose purposes require or may be facilitated by criminal background checks. The state issues user identifications and user agreements with eligible employers and organizations. These agreements permit access to the records systems for submission of applications with fingerprints. The system provides an official network of authorized fingerprint agencies. These official locations for fingerprinting have an approved chain of custody for the fingerprint records.
The Tennessee Open Records Information System or TORIS is a public access information system that permits requests from any person for a name-based search of criminal records. To conduct this name-based search, there is a fee of $29.00. The search includes arrests in Tennessee, misdemeanor charges, felony charges, misdemeanor convictions and felony convictions. Given the large potential for erroneous identification by name-based searches, the results are accurate reflections of the records but do not purport to identify the individual with certainty. It is simply the criminal record information officially associated with the name and coordinates provided.
Fingerprint based searches offer greater reliability that the records are those associated with the individual in question. Fingerprints do not relieve the possibility of error in the facts and events contained in the records. However, they do remove doubt that the individual under review and the individual connected to the records are the same.
A name-based search has a great potential for confused or mistaken identity. However, if the identity is accurate, the information contained in the report may nonetheless contain errors or inaccuracies. The State of Tennessee provides an administrative process for correcting errors. One can send a report of errors to the State and a set of fingerprints with any corrections considered necessary to make the record accurate. The State reviews the request and information and upon agreement they provide a procedure to correct to the official record. If they do not agree, then the individual must go further, and possibly file a court action to compel the State to correct the records. The advice and assistance of counsel would be helpful in this situation as the laws of expungement and criminal records in Tennessee are complex.
On May 1, 2012, the Tennessee Legislature passed a law to make it easier to obtain an expungement of a criminal conviction, and the procedure is currently found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-32-101(g). For procedures under the recent expungement law, the court fee in Tennessee is $350. The eligibility for expungement is narrow; one must have no more than one non-violent offense and meet detailed requirements including time and a record free of additional arrests or violations.
The essential terms are that for a fee of $350, an applicant can request expungement of a listed, past non-violent criminal conviction. Eligible offenses have two classes, those committed before November 1, 1989 and those committed after that date.
To qualify for expungement of an offense committed on or after November 1, 1989, the applicant must meet the following requirements. The Applicant may not have had a previous expungement and must not have a conviction for any other offense, state or federal, than the one for which he or she requests expungement. The applicant must show that he or she completed all of the requirements of the sentence. There must be a five-year period from the completion of the sentence.
For listed non-violent offenses committed prior to November 1, 1989, applicants must petition for expungement. To qualify they must meet three elements. First, they have never had a previous expungement. Second, they must have been sentenced to three years or less of a determinate sentence. Third, if given an indeterminate sentence, they must have served less than three years.
The County Courts in Tennessee maintain official records; they are the primary source of official information that the TBI collects and maintains for the state. In any search of court records, one should also contact the clerk of the court that heard the case and issued the conviction and related orders. The system may not have digitally preserved and transferred all records to the State system, and some records may have more information in the courthouse paper records, or other record forms.
TORIS Background Checks
TBI Policy Document
Find more legal articles in our articles database.