By Jedidiah McKeehan

When someone is on trial for a criminal charge, one thing they may not realize is that the only job the jury has is to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty (murder cases are the one exception to this).

After the jury finds the defendant guilty or not guilty the jury gets to go home. The defendant must then be sentenced by the judge. The jury has no part in the sentence the defendant receives after they are found guilty.

Under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-201 not only does the jury play no part in the sentencing of the defendant, the law says, “the judge shall not instruct the jury, nor shall the attorneys be permitted to comment at any time to the jury, on possible penalties for the offense charged nor all lesser included offenses.”

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I think that if juries knew then the possible sentences defendants were facing it would affect their decisions on finding someone guilty or not guilty.

For example, a driving under the influence (DUI) charge carries a sentence of up to one year in jail if found guilty. If a jury knew that if they found someone guilty of a DUI, would they be okay with that person potentially going to jail for up to one year? I do not know the answer to that question, but I would find that hard to believe.

When people come to see me who are charged with crimes, they often want to talk about the fact that other people will understand their situation and take pity on them. While a jury may not want to “throw the book” at a defendant and send them to serve a long prison sentence, that decision is not in their hands. The only decision they have is to determine whether someone is guilty or not guilty.


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