Tennessee has self-defense laws, including a stand-your-ground provision, that might be described as largely standard for laws of this type.
Tennessee’s self-defense law is entirely sturdy, well-rounded and strongly on the side of the individual citizen who is attacked, especially if they are attacked in their home, business, vehicle or any other place they have a lawful right to be.
You should not expect too many surprises when assessing Tennessee’s self-defense law, but there are one or two issues that could potentially get you in trouble if you were unaware of them. These are comparatively minor issues and we will discuss them throughout the article below.
What You Need to Know
- In Tennessee a citizen may use force including deadly force to prevent the infliction or threat of infliction of death or great bodily injury so long as the threat is real and imminent.
- A defender is presumed to be acting under a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury so long as the attack or other forcible felony occurs while they are inside their home, business or vehicle.
- A person may use force including lethal force in defense of a third person so long as all the usual standards for justifiable use of force in self-defense apply.
A person may use force in Tennessee to prevent another person from harming or killing themselves but they may not ever use lethal force for the purpose.
In Tennessee a citizen is justified in using lethal defensive force so long as they are not engaged in any otherwise unlawful activity and are in any place where they have a legal right to be when they have a reasonable belief that they are facing the imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury at the hands of another person.
In any case, so long as the use of lethal defensive force is justified a person has no obligation whatsoever to retreat as long as they are not engaged in any other crime, were the initial aggressor in the encounter or were resisting arrest from a lawfully badged peace officer.
As a qualification, the danger creating that belief of death or great bodily injury on the part of the victim must be honestly believed, real and founded upon reasonable grounds.
For instance, a person that is confronting you with a gun or knife and threatening to shoot or stab you if you don’t hand over your wallet would certainly qualify. A person who is threatening to destroy your home with a Tomahawk cruise missile at some unspecified point in the future if you don’t give them a ride to the bus station would not.
Additionally the state of Tennessee presumes that a person does in fact hold a reasonable belief of imminent death or great bodily injury to themselves, a family member or any other invited guest in the home if a person unlawfully and forcibly enters or attempts to enter their occupied home, business, dwelling or vehicle, or if such an entry had indeed already occurred.
A person may not use force and especially lethal force in defense if they are the initial instigator or aggressor in an attack, to resist arrest or most notably to attempt to stop someone from inflicting harm or death upon themselves.
State law in Tennessee specifically allows a person to use force in an attempt to stop a person who is hurting or attempting to kill themselves but lethal force is never allowed for the purpose! Don’t get any ideas about attempting to “shoot someone in the leg” to stop them from jumping off a building or out in front of traffic.
Tennessee possesses what might broadly be described as “standard issue” stand-your-ground laws, and citizens are allowed to defend themselves where so ever they might be with no duty to retreat so long as they have a legitimate fear that they are about to be the victims of death or great bodily injury at the hands of someone else using unlawful force against them.
The state additionally presumes that any person defending themselves or someone else inside their home, place of business, vehicle or other dwelling does in fact hold such a fear reasonably.
Relevant Tennessee Use of Force Statutes
(a) As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires:
(1) “Business” means a commercial enterprise or establishment owned by a person as all or part of the person’s livelihood or is under the owner’s control or who is an employee or agent of the owner with responsibility for protecting persons and property and shall include the interior and exterior premises of the business;
(2) “Category I nuclear facility” means a facility that possesses a formula quantity of strategic special nuclear material, as defined and licensed by the United States nuclear regulatory commission, and that must comply with the requirements of 10 CFR Part 73;
(3) “Curtilage” means the area surrounding a dwelling that is necessary, convenient and habitually used for family purposes and for those activities associated with the sanctity of a person’s home;
(4) “Deadly force” means the use of force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury;
(5) “Dwelling” means a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, that has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed for or capable of use by people;
(6) “Nuclear power reactor facility” means a reactor designed to produce heat for electric generation, for producing radiation or fissionable materials, or for reactor component testing, and does not include a reactor used for research purposes;
(7) “Nuclear security officer” means a person who meets the requirements of 10 CFR Part 73, Appendix B, who is an employee or an employee of a contractor of the owner of a category I nuclear facility or nuclear power reactor facility, and who has been appointed or designated by the owner of a category I nuclear facility or nuclear power reactor facility to provide security for the facility;
(8) “Residence” means a dwelling in which a person resides, either temporarily or permanently, or is visiting as an invited guest, or any dwelling, building or other appurtenance within the curtilage of the residence; and
(9) “Vehicle” means any motorized vehicle that is self-propelled and designed for use on public highways to transport people or property.
(1) Notwithstanding § 39-17-1322, a person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where the person has a right to be has no duty to retreat before threatening or using force against another person when and to the degree the person reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.
(2) Notwithstanding § 39-17-1322, a person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where the person has a right to be has no duty to retreat before threatening or using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury, if:
(A) The person has a reasonable belief that there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury;
(B) The danger creating the belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury is real, or honestly believed to be real at the time; and
(C) The belief of danger is founded upon reasonable grounds.
(c) Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury within a residence, business, dwelling or vehicle is presumed to have held a reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury to self, family, a member of the household or a person visiting as an invited guest, when that force is used against another person, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence, business, dwelling or vehicle, and the person using defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.
(d) The presumption established in subsection (c) shall not apply, if:
(1) The person against whom the force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, business, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder; provided, that the person is not prohibited from entering the dwelling, business, residence, or occupied vehicle by an order of protection, injunction for protection from domestic abuse, or a court order of no contact against that person;
(2) The person against whom the force is used is attempting to remove a person or persons who is a child or grandchild of, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used;
(3) Notwithstanding § 39-17-1322, the person using force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, business, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or
(4) The person against whom force is used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in § 39-11-106, who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, business, residence, or vehicle in the performance of the officer’s official duties, and the officer identified the officer in accordance with any applicable law, or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.
(e) The threat or use of force against another is not justified:
(1) If the person using force consented to the exact force used or attempted by the other individual;
(2) If the person using force provoked the other individual’s use or attempted use of unlawful force, unless:
(A) The person using force abandons the encounter or clearly communicates to the other the intent to do so; and
(B) The other person nevertheless continues or attempts to use unlawful force against the person; or
(3) To resist a halt at a roadblock, arrest, search, or stop and frisk that the person using force knows is being made by a law enforcement officer, unless:
(A) The law enforcement officer uses or attempts to use greater force than necessary to make the arrest, search, stop and frisk, or halt; and
(B) The person using force reasonably believes that the force is immediately necessary to protect against the law enforcement officer’s use or attempted use of greater force than necessary.
(f) A nuclear security officer is authorized to use deadly force under the following circumstances:
(1) Deadly force appears reasonably necessary to prevent or impede an act, or attempted act, of radiological sabotage at a category I nuclear facility or nuclear power reactor facility, including, but not limited to, situations where a person is attempting to, or has, unlawfully or forcefully entered a category I nuclear facility or nuclear power reactor facility, and where adversary tactics are employed to attempt an act of radiological sabotage, such as, but not limited to:
(A) Use of firearms or small arms;
(B) Use of explosive devices;
(C) Use of incendiary devices;
(D) Use of vehicle borne improvised explosive devices;
(E) Use of water borne improvised explosive devices;
(F) Breaching of barriers; and
(G) Use of other adversary or terrorist tactics which could be employed to attempt an act of radiological sabotage;
(2) Deadly force appears reasonably necessary to protect the nuclear security officer or another person if the nuclear security officer reasonably believes there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury;
(3) Deadly force appears reasonably necessary to prevent the imminent infliction or threatened infliction of death or serious bodily harm or the sabotage of an occupied facility by explosives;
(4) Deadly force appears reasonably necessary to prevent the theft, sabotage, or unauthorized control of special nuclear material from a nuclear power reactor facility or of a nuclear weapon or nuclear explosive device or special nuclear material from a category I nuclear facility; or
(5) Deadly force reasonably appears to be necessary to apprehend or prevent the escape of a person reasonably believed to:
(A) Have committed an offense of the nature specified under this subsection (f); or
(B) Be escaping by use of a weapon or explosive or who otherwise poses an imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm to nuclear security officers or others unless apprehended without delay.
39-11-612. Defense of third person.
A person is justified in threatening or using force against another to protect a third person, if:
(1) Under the circumstances as the person reasonably believes them to be, the person would be justified under § 39-11-611 in threatening or using force to protect against the use or attempted use of unlawful force reasonably believed to be threatening the third person sought to be protected; and
(2) The person reasonably believes that the intervention is immediately necessary to protect the third person.
39-11-613. Protection of life or health.
A person is justified in threatening or using force, but not deadly force, against another, when and to the degree the person reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to prevent the other from committing suicide or from the self-infliction of serious bodily injury.
39-11-614. Protection of property.
(a) A person in lawful possession of real or personal property is justified in threatening or using force against another, when and to the degree it is reasonably believed the force is immediately necessary to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on the land or unlawful interference with the property.
(b) A person who has been unlawfully dispossessed of real or personal property is justified in threatening or using force against the other, when and to the degree it is reasonably believed the force is immediately necessary to reenter the land or recover the property, if the person threatens or uses the force immediately or in fresh pursuit after the dispossession:
(1) The person reasonably believes the other had no claim of right when the other dispossessed the person; and
(2) The other accomplished the dispossession by threatening or using force against the person.
(c) Unless a person is justified in using deadly force as otherwise provided by law, a person is not justified in using deadly force to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on real estate or unlawful interference with personal property.
39-11-621. Use of deadly force by private citizen.
A private citizen, in making an arrest authorized by law, may use force reasonably necessary to accomplish the arrest of an individual who flees or resists the arrest; provided, that a private citizen cannot use or threaten to use deadly force except to the extent authorized under self-defense or defense of third person statutes, §§ 39-11-611 and 39-11-612.