Self defense in Tennessee: Stand your ground

Tennessee is one of several states with "Stand Your Ground" self-defense laws. You must meet certain conditions to be protected by this law.

Self-Defense Laws in Tennessee

Self-defense in Tennessee could also be known as “Stand Your Ground”. This legal doctrine is also sometimes referred to as the “castle” doctrine. 

The Tennessee Code Annotated that generally embodies the self-defense or Tennessee “Stand Your Ground” can be found at T.C.A. 39-11-611. 

The Tennessee “Stand Your Ground” can be generally broken into five components: 

  • Person not engaged in unlawful activity; 
  • Person in a place they have a legal right to be; 
  • Reasonable belief of imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury; 
  • The danger creating the belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury is real, or honestly believed to be real at the time; 
  • The belief is founded on reasonable grounds. 

What does this mean? Let’s break down the pieces of each of the five components. 

  1. Unlawful Activity

If a person is “not engaged in unlawful activity,” this means that when the person engaged or used self-defense, they were not committing a crime or any sort of violation of the statutes of Tennessee. For example, a person robbing a convenience store cannot invoke “Stand Your Ground.” 

  1. Legal Place

If a person is in a place where he or she has a right to be, then he/she has no duty to retreat. This can include your home, business, car, or any other public place you have the right to be. 

  1. Reasonable Belief of Imminent Danger

Imminent refers to something that’s about to happen or will happen shortly thereafter. While imminent danger of death is fairly obvious, serious bodily injury is a sliding scale in Tennessee. Often the “serious bodily injury” prong will be an area of much debate.

  1. Danger is Real

A person’s belief of the danger rising to the proper level of threat must be real. For example, thinking someone coming at you with a foam bat is not an imminent threat of serious bodily injury. 

  1. Belief

This component focuses more on the circumstances surrounding the attacker. Is the attacker saying things like, “I’m going to kill you?” Or is the attacker pointing a gun at you? While there are dozens of scenarios that could qualify, the test is based on the circumstances surrounding the event. 

The 'Castle doctrine'

In addition to these five components, there are some presumptions provided in the Tennessee “Stand Your Ground” statute. Any person who uses force in a home, business, or vehicle is presumed to have a reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household. This applies when the person using deadly force knows that the aggressor forcibly entered the home, business or car. This also applies to invited guests. This doctrine is known as the “castle doctrine.” 

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