Best Memphis Criminal Lawyers

Best Memphis Criminal Lawyers

If you or a loved one have been arrested for a crime in Memphis, hiring an experienced and aggressive criminal defense lawyer should be your top priority. An accomplished Memphis criminal attorney has the skills to conduct a thorough investigation, exploit weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, negotiate dismissals or plea bargains when appropriate, and defend your rights at trial. This guide explores Memphis criminal law and court procedures, explains the benefits of retaining skilled legal counsel, and recommends some of the top-rated Memphis criminal lawyers.

Overview of Memphis Courts and Criminal Justice System

Memphis is located in Shelby County, Tennessee and cases are prosecuted through the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office. Here is an overview of key aspects of the Memphis criminal court system:

Law Enforcement

The Memphis Police Department is the primary law enforcement agency handling investigations and arrests in the city. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office also has jurisdiction in Memphis.


There are several courts that handle different types of criminal cases in Memphis:

  • Memphis City Court – Misdemeanor crimes and traffic violations
  • General Sessions Court – Misdemeanors and preliminary hearings for felonies
  • Criminal Court – All felony cases
  • Federal Court – Federal crimes


The Shelby County Jail houses pre-trial detainees and those serving misdemeanor sentences.

Penal Farm

The Shelby County Penal Farm houses felony inmates serving county sentences.

State Prisons

Inmates with longer sentences are transferred to state prisons like West Tennessee State Penitentiary.


Shelby County Community Corrections provides probation supervision.

Overview of Tennessee Criminal Laws

The Tennessee Code contains all of the state’s criminal statutes defining offenses and penalties. Some key aspects include:

Felony Class System

  • Class A – Rape, murder, aggravated robbery – 15-60 years
  • Class B – Voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault – 8-30 years
  • Class C – Robbery, vehicular homicide – 3-15 years
  • Class D – Theft, reckless endangerment – 2-12 years
  • Class E – Probation eligible – 1-6 years

Misdemeanor Classes

  • Class A – DUI, possession of drugs – up to 11 months jail
  • Class B – Indecent exposure, false reports – up to 6 months jail
  • Class C – Disorderly conduct, trespass – up to 30 days jail or $50 fine

Common Crimes

  • Drug offenses
  • DUI
  • Assault and domestic violence
  • Weapons charges
  • Sex crimes
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Disorderly conduct

Enhancement Factors

Tennessee law provides for sentence enhancements based on certain aggravating factors like using a firearm, being a leader in the commission of an offense, or having an extensive criminal record.

Benefits of Hiring a Memphis Criminal Defense Attorney

Having an experienced criminal defense lawyer represent you provides important benefits:

Knowledge of Local Courts and Prosecutors

Your attorney will have insight into the procedures, personalities, and priorities unique to Shelby County criminal court.

Thorough Investigation

Your lawyer will conduct interviews, collect evidence, hire experts, visit the crime scene, subpoena records, and fully examine the prosecution’s case.

Defense Strategy

Your legal team will determine the right defense strategies for your case, such as challenging improperly obtained evidence, discrediting witnesses, or presenting affirmative defenses.

Plea Negotiations

Your lawyer can negotiate with the DA to get charges reduced or dismissed through careful leveraging of the evidence and sentencing factors.

Trial Experience

During a jury trial your attorney will artfully cross-examine witnesses, exclude prejudicial evidence through motions, and strongly advocate your defense theory in arguments.

Sentencing Mitigation

If convicted, your lawyer will gather evidence and letters of support aimed at persuading the judge to impose the lowest possible sentence.


Your lawyer can identify and raise legal errors that occurred at trial as grounds for appeal and overturning a conviction.

Top Memphis Criminal Defense Lawyers

Here are some of the leading criminal defense attorneys and law firms in Memphis that offer aggressive representation for clients facing criminal prosecution:

Wyatt B. Durrette, Jr.

With over 45 years of criminal trial experience, Wyatt B. Durrette, Jr. is widely regarded as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in Memphis. He handles state and federal charges ranging from drugs to white collar crime to violent offenses. He is known for his litigation skills and ability to get charges reduced or dismissed pre-trial.

Tom Dees

Attorney Tom Dees is a former Memphis Police officer turned criminal defense lawyer. His inside knowledge of law enforcement gives him unique skills defending clients against charges like DUI, drugs, domestic assault, and weapons offenses. He is respected for his tenacity and legal knowledge.

Leslie Ballin

A former president of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Leslie Ballin is an experienced Memphis trial attorney handling serious state and federal felony cases. He has successfully defended numerous complex white collar crime, murder, and sex offense cases over his long career.

Jeff Mueller

As a former Shelby County prosecutor, Jeff Mueller brings invaluable insight to his work as a criminal defense lawyer. He handles cases ranging from misdemeanor marijuana possession and DUI to serious violent felonies. He is praised for his communication skills and relentless advocacy.

Josh Spickler

Josh Spickler is respected for his passionate defense of clients in Memphis facing charges from disorderly conduct to sex crimes and murder. He is experienced identifying key evidence issues that can get charges reduced or dismissed pre-trial through expertise in forensic science and psychology.

Claiborne Ferguson

The Claiborne Ferguson Law Firm prides itself on aggressive criminal defense representation in Memphis. Lead attorney Claiborne Ferguson is a former judge known for his litigation skills defending charges ranging from theft to drug trafficking. The firm has considerable trial experience and success.

Gerald Skahan

Attorney Gerald Skahan handles state and federal criminal defense with over 20 years of experience. He is skilled at negotiating dismissals and plea bargains. When trial is necessary, he effectively argues for acquittals by undermining the prosecution’s evidence and theories.

Expert Memphis Criminal Attorneys Provide Tenacious Defense

If you are facing criminal charges in Memphis, leveraging the services of an accomplished criminal defense lawyer provides critical advantages. They apply their expertise with local courts, negotiators, and criminal statutes to protect your rights and future. With skilled counsel guiding your defense, you can achieve the most favorable outcome possible. Do not leave your fate to chance – make the wise investment in retaining a seasoned Memphis criminal attorney.

Frequently Prosecuted Criminal Offenses in Memphis

To understand the criminal charges you may potentially face and possible defenses, here is an overview of some of the most commonly prosecuted offenses in Memphis:

Drug Possession and Distribution

Memphis prosecutors aggressively pursue charges for illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, prescription medications, and marijuana. Charges include:

  • Simple Possession – TCA § 39-17-418
  • Possession with Intent to Sell – § 39-17-417
  • Sale of Controlled Substances – § 39-17-417
  • Drug Trafficking – § 39-17-417

Defenses: Illegal search, lack of possession, misidentified substance, entrapment, lack of intent to sell/deliver.

Assault and Domestic Violence

Violent crimes are taken very seriously in Memphis. Charges include:

  • Simple Assault – TCA § 39-13-101
  • Aggravated Assault – § 39-13-102
  • Domestic Assault – § 39-13-111
  • Reckless Endangerment – § 39-13-103

Defenses: Self-defense, misidentification of attacker, fabricated allegations, lack of intent.

Sex Crimes

Sex offenses lead to severe penalties and registration requirements. Charges include:

  • Rape – TCA § 39-13-503
  • Sexual Battery – § 39-13-505
  • Statutory Rape – § 39-13-506
  • Solicitation of a Minor – § 39-13-528

Defenses: False allegations, mistaken age, consent, lack of sexual intent.

Theft Crimes

Theft, burglary, robbery, and shoplifting are commonly charged offenses. Charges include:

  • Theft up to $1,000 – TCA § 39-14-103
  • Theft over $1,000 – § 39-14-105
  • Burglary – § 39-14-402
  • Robbery – § 39-13-401

Defenses: Mistake, rightful ownership, false accusations, lack of evidence, lack of intent.


Tennessee aggressively prosecutes drunk driving offenses. Charges include:

  • 1st Offense DUI – TCA § 55-10-401
  • 2nd Offense DUI – § 55-10-401
  • 3rd Offense DUI – § 55-10-401
  • DUI Endangerment – § 39-13-106

Defenses: Invalid traffic stop, rising BAC, inaccurate breath test, medical conditions.

Skilled Memphis criminal defense lawyers know how to fight these charges by exploiting weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and putting the state to their burden of proving guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.

Memphis Criminal Court Process

If you are facing criminal prosecution in Memphis, understanding the key steps involved will help you assert your rights:

1. Arrest

The case starts with being arrested and taken to jail on suspicion of a crime. Your lawyer can argue for bond and pre-trial release.

2. Preliminary Hearing

This hearing involves a judge deciding if there is sufficient probable cause for the charges to proceed. Your lawyer may get charges dismissed here by undermining the prosecution’s evidence.

3. Grand Jury Indictment

Felony charges go to a grand jury who will issue an indictment if they find probable cause based on the prosecution’s presentation.

4. Arraignment

This hearing involves formally entering a plea to the charges. Your lawyer may negotiate an immediate dismissal or plea deal.

5. Pretrial Motions

Your attorney can file motions to suppress evidence, obtain discovery, and further negotiate with the DA.

6. Trial

If no plea is reached, your attorney must be prepared for trial and present the best defense.

7. Sentencing

If convicted, your lawyer advocates for the lightest sentence and presents mitigating evidence.

Finding the Right Memphis Criminal Defense Attorney

Choosing the right lawyer to defend your case is crucial. Look for attorneys with:

  • Extensive criminal trial experience
  • Resources to build the strongest defense
  • Negotiation skills to advocate for a favorable plea bargain
  • Litigation expertise to argue effectively before judges and juries
  • Knowledge of Memphis courts, laws, and procedures
  • Appellate experience for potential appeals
  • Positive client reviews

research thoroughly and meet for consultations before deciding who to retain. Then you can proceed confidently knowing your rights are protected by a talented Memphis criminal defense lawyer.

Memphis Criminal Lawyers

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Memphis, a strong defense attorney is essential to have on your side. You want to hire an attorney who understands the various outcomes that could occur when you go to court and who knows how to put together a defense that can possibly result in your charges being reduced or dismissed altogether. When you’re charged with a crime, then you will likely be given a bail amount. If you’re unable to post bail, then your attorney can approach the court to try to get your bond lowered so that you can try to get out of jail until you go to court.

When you go to court, a Memphis criminal lawyer can question witnesses for both sides in order to get the most information out to the members of the court. Legalities of a search and seizure can be challenged if your attorney feels as though your rights could have been violated. An attorney can examine all of the evidence presented against you to determine if something might need to be thrown out instead of being brought up in court. If there is enough evidence against you and the attorney feels as though the prosecution has a good case, then your attorney can try to work on a plea deal so that you don’t spend as long in jail as you could if you were to leave your fate to a judge or jury.

One of the reasons why you want to hire a Memphis criminal lawyer is because the person often has more knowledge about the legal system than you have. The attorney you hire should know the law and should continue to study legal cases and information in order to represent clients in the best possible way. Sometimes, the attorney you hire could know the prosecutors who work in the court or the judges. This means that your attorney might be able to talk to these people before your case begins so that a deal can be reached that is satisfactory for everyone involved.

There is usually a range of penalties that could be given if you’re convicted of a crime. A Memphis criminal lawyer can present your case and deliver arguments as to why you shouldn’t receive the maximum penalty. The prosecution will likely try to seek the maximum penalty for the crime that you’re accused of committing, which is why it’s so important to have someone on your side who cares about your freedom and understands that people make mistakes. Your attorney can present details about your home life, employment, and your ties to the community as ways to get the judge to see that you should be released from jail in a minimal amount of time or not go to jail at all.

Your attorney in Memphis will likely have more resources to handle a case in court than you have available. The attorney you hire can usually collect more evidence than has already been obtained and can often use that evidence in defending you in court. A private investigator could be hired to try to obtain more information about the charges against you and to try to gather more evidence. You don’t want to try to take on these tasks on your own as it could be difficult to know what to look for when it comes to evidence and the proper way to collect it for court.

Types of Crimes
There are numerous crimes that could be charged with in Memphis. An attorney should be able to represent you no matter what kind of crime is involved. Keep in mind that some lawyers work in specific areas of the law, such as DUIs or personal injury claims.

Traffic offenses are usually the most common charges that an attorney can help you with as these could go in a few different directions when you go to court. If you have a lengthy background, then you could have to surrender your license or go to jail.

Abuse charges are often serious and should be handled with the help of an attorney. You could be charged with child or domestic abuse. Both of these charges could land you in jail for a few months to a few years depending on the severity of the details and your background.

Some of the severe charges that an attorney could help you with include rape, murder, and robbery. Keep in mind that you likely won’t get a bond amount for these charges, but your attorney can help you put together a defense that could put doubt in the minds of jurors or in the mind of the judge so that you don’t face the highest penalties. If you are convicted of a crime, then your attorney can work to file an appeal to try to have the outcome changed.