By Jedidiah McKeehan

In Tennessee, felonies are crimes punishable by one year or more in state prison. Lawmakers have designated felonies as class A, B, C, D, or E, with A being the most severe (for the most serious cases) and E being the least harsh.

Class A felonies receive sentences between 15 and 25 years.

Class B felonies receive sentences between 8 and 12 years.

Class C felonies receive sentences between 3 and 6 years.

Class D felonies receive sentences between 2 and 4 years.

Class E felonies receive sentences between 1 and 2 years.

Note that these ranges are for someone that has never been convicted of a crime and has no criminal history. For those with previous records, the range is extended (for example, Class A felonies could receive a sentence as long as 60 years).

When you hear people on TV talk about the length of sentences for crimes, it’s important to remember that it is extremely unlikely for a defendant to serve all of their sentence in jail.  For defendants who have little or no criminal history, they become eligible for parole after serving just 30 percent of their sentence.  What is parole?  Parole is when the defendant is released from jail and placed on a type of probation for the remainder of their sentence.  Now, a defendant may not be granted parole on their first try when they have served 30 percent of their sentence, but they are at least eligible to petition the parole board for early release at that point. Now, how does this work practically?  It means that if someone gets sentenced to a 10-year sentence in jail, they could be out on the streets after 3 years.  If this was not the case, the problem of overcrowded jails would be even worse than it is now.  However, if a defendant is released early, they will be under court supervision for the remainder of their sentence (7 years in our example) to ensure that they are able to pass drug tests, seeking employment and not obtaining new criminal charges.

If a defendant who has a longer criminal history gets sentenced, they will not be eligible for parole until they have served a greater percentage of their sentence.  Also, some serious crimes require that a very high percentage of the sentence be served before a person become eligible for parole regardless of the defendant’s criminal history.  For example, if someone gets convicted of selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school, park or church (which is about everywhere in Tennessee), then they are required to serve 100 percent of their sentence.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.