When a person works for a company, they must follow certain rules and policies. Violating the employer’s regulations can result in being terminated from the position. If that person work’s for the government, such actions could also result in a misdemeanor or felony charge.
Under Tennessee statutes, it’s illegal for a government worker, also called a public servant, to act outside of their role or commit an offense prohibited by a law related to their role. This type of conduct is what is legally referred to as official misconduct.
Who’s Considered a Public Servant?
Although the term public servant may seem like it refers to only police officers or those who work for the court, it is actually used for a variety of roles.
Tennessee law considers any of the following public servants:
- Government workers, including officers, employees, and agents
- Jurors or grand jurors
- Arbitrators, referees, or others who are legally allowed to create written agreements for causes and controversies
- Lawyers or notary publics performing government roles
- Public office candidates
- Those with claims of right to perform a governmental function, although they may not have the legal qualifications for doing so
How Is Official Misconduct Defined?
Various acts could be considered official misconduct if they violate the terms of the public servant’s role.
A person commits an offense when they, with knowledge or intent, seek to obtain benefit from or harm another by:
- Engaging in conduct that misuses their official power
- Performing an act that is outside of their official role
- Refusing to carry out a function they are required by law to do
- Violating a law relating to their role
- Receiving an illegal benefit, such as using insider knowledge to gain tangible or intangible property for profit
Examples of official misconduct include:
- A probation officer having a physical relationship with a probationer
- A school district employee misappropriating funds from the cafeteria
- A mayor using fines for personal purchases
- A road superintendent using county equipment, supplies, or materials for personal projects
- A deputy hitting a handcuffed inmate
Let’s say a public servant stole money from a school. If they’re charged with official misconduct, does that mean they won’t face any other criminal charges? No. Any person accused of overstepping the bounds and/or laws of their government role can also be prosecuted for the underlying offense. In the case of the employee who took school money, they could face theft charges on top of official misconduct.
When the actions of a public servant break the official misconduct statute, and they don’t receive a benefit not authorized by law, they would be committing a Class E felony. The conviction penalties include between 1 and 6 years in prison and/or up to $50,000 in fines.
However, if the basis for the public servant’s conduct was to buy real property that the government might purchase or they use nonpublic information for their benefit, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor. The punishments include up to 11 months, 29 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
If you’ve been accused of a criminal offense in Knoxville, schedule a free case consultation with Eldridge & Blakney. Call us at (865) 544-2010 or contact us online.