Nashville Criminal Lawyers Explain Self Defense in Tennessee: When can I use Deadly Force for Protection?

A fundamental tenant of responsible gun ownership is knowing under what circumstances the use of deadly force is permitted. This Nashville criminal lawyer blog article is intended to educate citizens in Tennessee of their rights generally as to self-defense however is not intended as legal advice (as every case is different). We will first discuss “When” and then, more importantly, “Where” you can use deadly force.

When may I use Deadly Force?  (Deadly Force being defined by Tennessee law as “force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury.”)Self Defense in Tennessee Nashville Criminal Lawyer Shipman Crim

The use of deadly force is permitted when a person, who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where the person has the right to be:

1. Has a reasonable belief that there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury;

2. The danger creating the belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury is real, or honestly believed to be real at the time; AND

3. The belief of danger is founded upon reasonable grounds.

Furthermore, there is no duty to retreat before the threat or use of deadly force where the above circumstances exist.  This is an important distinction from other States that require an attempt to flee the scene, or exit a home to escape an intruder.

Where may I use Deadly Force? – The “Castle Doctrine.”

Here is where Tennessee law most strongly protects the right of a person to use deadly force, using an expanded version of the old adage that a person’s home is their “Castle.”  Using the same criteria above, Tennessee law provides a person the presumption that they have a “reasonable belief that there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury,” when the person using deadly force is inside their:

1. Residence – 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.  Curtilage being defined as 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.

2. Business – 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;

3. Dwelling – 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.

4. Vehicle –  any motorized vehicle that is self-propelled and designed for use on public highways to transport people or property.

Of course the person using deadly force may only do so 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.

Clearly the circumstances under which the other person made entry into the residence, business, dwelling, or vehicle is a factor in determining whether the use of deadly force is permissible.  The presumption described above does not apply in these obvious situations:

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. 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 T.C.A. § 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.

Simply put, you are not afforded the presumption that you are in fear for your life if the person entering the residence, business, dwelling, or vehicle has the right to be there, they have the right to remove a person of whom they have lawful custody, the person is a law enforcement officer, or you are engaged in illegal activity.

Lastly, before providing the definitions of Residence, Business, Dwelling, and Vehicle, these are the specifically listed times that the use or even threat Deadly Force is NOT permitted:

  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 the person using force abandons the encounter or clearly communicates to the other the intent to do so, and the other person nevertheless continues or attempts to use unlawful force against the person.
  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 the law enforcement officer uses or attempts to use greater force than necessary to make the arrest, search, stop and frisk, or halt; and 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.

May I use Deadly Force to protect my personal property or to ward off a trespasser on my land?

Deadly Force is NEVER PERMITTED to protect personal property or real estate.

Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-614 (c) clearly states that “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.”

Tennessee law provides strong protections for its citizens who are engaged in lawful activities. If you have been charged with any crime in Tennessee which you belief you were justified in using deadly force to defend yourself, always consult with a criminal defense lawyer. 


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