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What Are the Rules on Self Defense in Tennessee?

McCarter | East PLLC  Jan. 11, 2023

Concentrated girl practicing effective self defense.When someone is charged with a criminal offense in Tennessee, one of the defenses they can use is self-defense. Self-defense is a legal defense that can be used to justify an action taken by an individual to protect themselves from another person’s attack. 

Contact our criminal defense attorneys at McCarter | East PLLC to learn more about the rules of self-defense in Tennessee. We have the comprehensive skills and resources necessary to help you build a strategic defense. Our office in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is located a few blocks from the courthouse. We also provide legal counsel to clients in Berry Hill, Tennessee, and surrounding areas.  

What Is Self-Defense?  

In Tennessee, self-defense is defined as the right of an individual to use reasonable force when threatened with physical harm or death from another person. According to Tennessee law, individuals can use deadly force if they reasonably believe it is necessary to avoid death or serious bodily injury at the hands of another person. However, if an individual uses deadly force against another person unlawfully, they can face criminal charges and penalties, including jail time and fines. 

When Can It Be Used as a Legal Defense?  

In the state of Tennessee, self-defense is a legal defense available for individuals charged with a crime. Let’s break down what criteria must be met for self-defense to be valid. 

  • The imminent danger requirement. In Tennessee, self-defense can only be used if the defendant is in imminent danger of being killed or seriously injured and there is no reasonable alternative to using force. This means that the defendant must have reasonably believed that they were in immediate danger and had no other way out other than using force.   

  • The reasonable belief requirement. The defendant must also have had a reasonable belief that using force was necessary to prevent imminent injury or death. The court will consider certain factors, such as whether or not there was an immediate threat, any prior contact between the parties involved, or any prior indications of violence between them. 

  • The necessary force requirement. When using self-defense as a legal defense in Tennessee, the amount of force used must have been necessary and proportionate to the threat posed by the attacker. This means that if a person claims self-defense, they cannot use more force than was needed to defend themselves from harm. Otherwise, it would constitute excessive force and could result in criminal liability for their actions.   

  • The “initial aggressor” exception. In general, an individual who initiates an attack cannot claim self-defense as a legal defense. However, there are exceptions where even the initial aggressor may still successfully claim self-defense, depending on the circumstances of each case. For example, if someone initially started an altercation but then withdrew from it and attempted to deescalate the situation before being attacked again by their opponent—they may successfully argue self-defense as long as they meet all of the other requirements discussed above (imminent danger, reasonable belief, and reasonable force).   

Knowing these elements can help individuals understand when they can legally rely on self-defense as a potential defense during the trial, thereby helping them better prepare for their upcoming case.  

Duty to Retreat in Tennessee  

Under Tennessee state law, individuals have no “duty to retreat” before using force in self-defense. This means that an individual can use deadly force in self-defense without first trying to escape or retreat from the threat. However, this only applies if the individual has a reasonable belief that they are facing an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death. Individuals must also prove that they were not engaged in any illegal activity at the time of the incident and did not provoke or initiate the confrontation.  

  • The stand your ground law. The stand your ground law applies when a person is attacked while they are outside their home. People who are attacked outside their homes can stand their ground and defend themselves with whatever force they deem necessary.  

  • The castle doctrine. The castle doctrine essentially states that individuals have no duty to retreat when defending their homes from intruders or attackers.  

As with other forms of self-defense claims under Tennessee state law, individuals using the stand your ground law or the castle doctrine must prove that they were not engaged in any illegal activity at the time of the attack.  

Protect Yourself With Legal Support  

To ensure you’re taking all proper steps when claiming self-defense, seek legal assistance from an experienced criminal defense attorney who specializes in cases involving self-defense claims. Our criminal defense attorneys at McCarter | East PLLC provide valuable insight into applicable laws and help you form a strong legal strategy for your case. Reach out to our office in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to discuss the applicability of self-defense in your case.