|Legal Opinion: |
Text of Document: July 17, 2002
Re: Municipal Court
Dear City Administrator,
Police Consultant Rex Barton has recently advised me of a situation concerning the operation of your municipal court. It is my understanding that the court does not have concurrent, general sessions jurisdiction, and yet state misdemeanor cases are being heard. I have been informed that the misdemeanors which are being adjudicated in the municipal court include public intoxication. I must advise you that this practice is in violation of the law.
Several cases addressing the power of municipal courts make it clear that such courts impose civil penalties rather than criminal penalties. In State v. Barrett, 840 S.W.2d 895 (Tenn. 1992), the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that municipal judges which do not have concurrent jurisdiction, and which are not elected to eight year terms, may not exercise jurisdiction over state criminal offenses committed within the municipal boundaries. A former section of the Tennessee Code which granted municipal judges such powers was declared to be unconstitutional.
Whether or not your city has adopted an ordinance making public intoxication a municipal violation, the Tennessee Code specifically prohibits the enforcement of such ordinances. T.C.A.'33-8-203 provides:
All arrests and court proceedings for public intoxication and
drunkenness in this state shall be under the provisions of
''39-6-925B39-6-928, to the exclusion of any common law
or statutory offense now being enforced. No county, municipality,
or other political subdivision of this state shall adopt any local
law, ordinance, resolution or regulation having the force of law
rendering public intoxication or drunkenness in and of itself or
being a common drunkard or being found in enumerated places
in an intoxicated condition, an offense, a violation of the subject
of criminal or civil penalties of any kind...
It is a well settled rule of law in Tennessee that municipal judges who do not exercise concurrent jurisdiction, and who are not elected to eight year terms pursuant to constitutional requirements, may not preside over cases involving a violation of the state criminal code, including those offenses deemed to be misdemeanors. This rule has been specifically stated in the code section quoted above with regard to offenses relating to public intoxication.
I must therefore advise you to refer the prosecution of all such offenses to your county general sessions court.
I hope this information has been helpful. Please let me know if you need further information or have any questions.
Thank you for consulting with MTAS.
Melissa A. Ashburn