Although self-defense laws across the country allow individuals to defend themselves from harm, these laws generally do not permit individuals to commit violence in just any given situation, and simply claim self-defense. Understanding the basics of self-defense law in Tennessee are important, both to understand how to properly use self-defense and avoid criminal charges when attempting to do so.

Below is a brief review of how the state of Tennessee treats self-defense.

Requirements for lawfully claiming self-defense

A claim of self-defense includes an admission of guilt, but claiming legal justification for the act. In order to lawfully claim self-defense, certain elements must be present. As the defendant claiming self-defense, these include:

  • You believed that you were under imminent threat of bodily harm and your actions were necessary to protect you from that harm
  • You had a legal right to be in that location or area at that specific time
  • You were not performing any illegal actions when the incident occurred
  • Another person would have reasonably feared the same imminent harm to his/her person and believed the actions taken were justified under the same conditions

As the defendant, you must prove you feared imminent harm to your person. A threat of later violence cannot be used as a self-defense justification.

In addition, usually the other individual must have acted as the aggressor in the encounter. If, for example, you bump into a person and the other party escalates the violence or pulls out a gun, you have the right to protect yourself from deadly harm and legally claim self-defense. Under the “Stand Your Ground” law in Tennessee, if another person is the initial aggressor, you have no obligation to retreat before you act to protect yourself in self-defense.

The Castle Doctrine – self-defense using deadly force

Certain types of self-defense can threaten or cause death to another person. The only time deadly force is justified in Tennessee is to protect oneself against physical harm or death. Any deadly force used must be proportional to the harm feared and anticipated. For example, you may not stab or shoot someone who swings at you with a punch, and claim self-defense under the law.

Under Tennessee law, the “Castle Doctrine” gives individuals the right to exercise deadly force under particular circumstances for the purpose of self-protection in certain locations. As the name implies, the doctrine revolves around the concept that your home is your castle and you should have the legal right to protect yourself inside of your “Castle” or other similar location. The Castle Doctrine makes self-defense justified if someone forcibly or violently enters certain locations, such as:

  • A home you own or lease
  • A home in which you are invited as a guest
  • A business you own or in which you are a working employee or as the owner’s agent charged with protecting the grounds
  • Any kind of building or structure with a roof intended to be used by people, such as tents and mobile homes
  • Motorized vehicles of any kind designed for individuals on public roadways or for the transportation of items or people

The Castle Doctrine only applies if you are in the particular location lawfully and you know the other individual has entered the location unlawfully. You may not use deadly force under this doctrine when:

  • You (the person using the deadly force) were performing unlawful activity for using the location or building to carry out unlawful actions
  • The victim of your deadly force had a legal right to enter the location or home
  • The victim of your deadly force was a police officer or law enforcement agent who entered the building or was stopping traffic or operating a roadblock according to their official duties, and you had reason to believe he or she was such an officer or agent
  • The victim of your deadly force was attempting to remove a person or child over which he or she had guardianship or legal custody

The Castle Doctrine does not protect you if you provoke an individual to enter into a home or building and then use deadly force. Also, deadly force may not be used to protect personal property or items or to simply remove a trespasser from property if the trespasser is not attempting to enter the building.

Using an experienced self-defense attorney

It is important to contact an experienced Franklin criminal defense attorney before answering any questions from the police or making any claims of self-defense to law enforcement or attorneys for the plaintiff. Remember, you must be able to prove your self-defense case at a later time, and your claim must be substantiated by the evidence. Otherwise, law enforcement and prosecutors may use your claim effectively as an admission on your part of committing a violent act.

At the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, our criminal defense attorneys in Franklin, Brentwood, and Columbia fight on your behalf against the criminal charges you are facing. We pursue dismissal of your charges when the government is unable to prove the key elements of its case. In other instances, when charges are in dispute, we know how to negotiate a fair plea deal on your behalf. To arrange a consultation, give us a call today at 615.977.9370 or use our contact form.