The supreme court is the highest court in the state. It consists of five justices, not more than two of whom may reside in any one grand division of the state—East, Middle, or West Tennessee. The justices are elected by popular vote for terms of eight years and must be at least 35 years of age. The court has appellate jurisdiction only, holding sessions in Nashville, Knoxville, and Jackson. The position of chief justice rotates every 19 months.
Immediately below the supreme court are two appellate courts (each sitting in three divisions), established by the legislature to relieve the crowded high court docket. The court of appeals has appellate jurisdiction in most civil cases. The court of criminal appeals hears cases from the lower courts involving criminal matters. Judges on both appellate courts are elected for eight-year terms.
Circuit courts have original jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases. Tennessee still has chancery courts, vestiges of the English courts designed to hear cases where there was no adequate remedy at law. They administer cases involving receiverships of corporations, settle disputes regarding property ownership, hear divorce cases, and adjudicate on a variety of other matters. In some districts, judges of the circuit and chancery courts, all of whom are elected for eight-year terms, have concurrent jurisdiction.
At the bottom of the judicial structure are general sessions courts. A comprehensive juvenile court system was set up in 1911. Other courts created for specific services include domestic relations courts and probate courts.
As of June 2001, federal and state prisons in Tennessee had 23,168 inmates, an increase of 2.7% over the previous year. The state's incarceration rate stood at 404 per 100,000 inhabitants.
According to the FBI Crime Index, Tennessee's total crime rate stood at 5,152.8 per 100,000 population, including a total of 42,778 violent crimes and 252,992 crimes against property in that year. Tennessee does implement the death penalty; there were 105 persons under sentence of death in 2003. There has only been one execution in the state since 1977.