Until 2007, long-standing Tennessee law prohibited a person legally at home from using deadly force on an illegal intruder if he or she could safely retreat.
In May 2007, however, the Tennessee Legislature passed, and Governor Phil Bredesen signed the “Stand Your Ground” law which removed the duty to retreat in most circumstances.
Q. What exactly does Tennessee’s “Stand Your Ground” law say?
First, the words “stand your ground” are not in the law, which appears at Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-611 and is simply titled “Self-defense.”
Tennessee’s “Self-defense” law states that:
- A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity, and
- Who is in a place where the person has a right to be,
- Legally has no duty to retreat before threatening or using force against another person who unlawfully and forcibly enters a residence, business, dwelling, or vehicle,
- 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.
The law also provides criminal and civil immunity for persons using physical or deadly force to protect themselves from an attacker, subject to certain exceptions.
Q. What are the exceptions when the “Self-defense” law does NOT allow use of defensive force?
The law PROHIBITS physical or deadly force from being used in several key situations:
- Against a person who is a lawful resident or who has the right to be in the dwelling, business, residence, or vehicle; or
- Against a person attempting to remove his or her child or grandchild, or who is attempting to remove a child for whom he or she has lawful custody or guardianship; or
- Against a law enforcement officer who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, business, residence, or vehicle in the performance of the officer's official duties.
Jim Hawkins is a general practice and public interest law attorney based in Gallatin. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. Topics for future columns may be suggested at (615) 452-9200.