The District Attorney’s Office
Sevier County is proud to be American! We say the pledge of Allegiance with enthusiasm, but when it comes to how our system really works, many of us scratch our heads and are glad someone else, who has to work in the government, knows what they are doing.
The Herald Newspapers are talking to the people who make up the Judicial system here in Sevier County and asking them to explain their jobs in such a way that the average person can understand. The first person we talked to was District Attorney General (D.A.) Al Schmutzer, Jr. He was gracious to explain what the office of the District Attorney does.
The District Attorney is a representative of the State of Tennessee. District Attorney General Schmutzer represents the 4th District, which covers Sevier, Jefferson, Cocke, and Granger Counties. The D.A. represents every case from the beginning, whether it goes to the General Session or the Grand Jury. In the circuit court the case is either pled or taken to trial.
When the D.A.’s office is asked, they participate in Law Enforcement in-service training, and advise the participants about recent cases and legal aspects of their job, for example searches and seizures.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has two agents assigned to this district who work at the D.A.’s request and who also have standing requests from his office to help local law enforcement in any homicide or other high profile case. It becomes necessary to call the agents in when manpower becomes an issue. The agents may get involved in other matters, from time to time, that may require their expertise (i.e.. embezzlement from government agencies.)
The District Attorney’s office makes the ultimate decision on whether or not to prosecute a criminal matter. They head up Child Sexual Abuse Division, the Child Fatality Review Team, and the Elder Abuse Coalition. They also work with participating local law enforcement agencies in the 4th District in dealing with the Drugs and Violent Crime Task Force.
This is how a criminal prosecution takes place:
1) The issue is initiated by warrant, citation or indictment.
2) If it is a criminal warrant or citation- it goes to the general session.
3) At the preliminary hearing, the state usually gives minimal evidence to show probable cause that the crime was committed by the defendant and the judge decides whether or not there is sufficient evidence to hand it over to the Grand Jury.
4) If the case is a misdemeanor, the defendant may waive the right to a preliminary hearing and the Grand Jury and allow the General Sessions Judge to try them on guilt or innocence.
5) Once the case is bound to the Grand Jury (composed of 13 citizens of the County), they will make an independent determination as to whether there is probably cause.
6) Even if the General Session Judge may have found probable cause, the Grand Jury may not find probable cause and return a “no true bill”.
7) If the turn is indictment, the case then goes to the Circuit Court, and the defendant either pleads guilty or goes to trial before a jury of 12, who decide guilt or innocence.
8) The Preliminary Hearing and Grand Jury provide safeguards to insure someone is not being wrongfully prosecuted. The ultimate safeguard is that the jury decides guilt or innocence, based upon a standard of truth of beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the executive and legislative branches of the government, citizens elect someone to represent them and make decisions of their behalf. In the judicial system, citizen play a more direct role as sitting as either Grand or regular Jurors, who ultimately decide the guilt or innocence of the accused, if they stands on a plea of not guilty. The jury becomes the “conscience” of the community, in that they decide what is justice.
“The system is sometimes slow and cumbersome,” the District Attorney General said gravely, “but it is the best in the world to the extent that it goes, to protect the innocent and to punish the guilty.” He confessed that he does his job because he “feels he is doing something positive for the community by working in conjunction with local law enforcement to keep our community a safe place to raise a family.”