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Tennessee Self-Defense Laws

Jessica is walking back to her car after work when suddenly a man in a ski mask brandishes a knife and tells her to get in the car and give him the keys. Instead of trying to run away, Jessica pulls out her gun and shoots him three times. If he dies, would Jessica be charged with murder? Well, if this incident happened in Tennessee, or another state that has stand your ground laws, her actions would be covered by the state's self-defense laws. After all, Tennessee does not require victims to retreat from a situation before using force in self-defense, even if they have an opportunity to do so.

Summary of Tennessee Self-Defense Laws

It's important to read the actual statute when you have a question about the law, but it can take time to fully understand what's written since laws are usually rife with legalese. So, when you want a quick and easy answer it helps to have a summary of the law handy. In the following chart you can find both an overview of Tennessee self-defense laws and links to relevant statutes.


Tennessee Code, Title 39, Chapter 11, Section 39-11-611 (Self-Defense)

When the Use of Deadly Force Is Justified

A person who's in a place lawfully and who isn't engaged in an illegal activity has no duty to retreat before using or threatening to use force that's likely to cause serious bodily injury or death if:

  • The person reasonably believes there's an imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death;
  • The danger is real or honestly believed to be real at the time; and
  • The belief of danger is founded upon reasonable grounds.

A person who uses deadly force 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 the force is used against someone who unlawfully and forcibly entered the place.

When the Use of Force Is Not Justified

The use or threat of force isn't justified in the following situations:

  • If you consented to the exact force used by the other person.
  • If you provoked the other person's use of unlawful force, unless: (1) you abandoned the encounter (physically or via clear communication); and (2) the other person continues to use unlawful force.
  • If you resist a halt at a search, arrest, roadblock, or stop and frisk that you know is being conducted by a police officer, unless: (1) the officer uses greater force than necessary; and (2) the person using force reasonably believes that the force is immediately necessary to protect against the officer's unnecessary use of force.
Related Statute(s)

Tennessee Code, Title 39, Chapter 11:

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Tennessee Self-Defense Laws: Related Resources

If you'd like more information and resources related to this topic, you can visit the links listed below.

Learn More About Tennessee Self-Defense Laws from a Lawyer

There are situations when the use of force, even if deadly, is justified. If you're facing criminal charges in Tennessee, it's a good idea to get in touch with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can review the facts of your case and explain how Tennessee self-defense laws may apply to your particular situation.

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