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Stand Your Ground Law In Tennessee

Following the jury verdict in the recent trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin, many people have been wondering whether Tennessee has a similar provision. Tennessee does have a very broad self-defense law that is contained in the Tennessee Code at Section 39-11-611. More specifically, the stand your ground law in Tennessee is broken into two subsections of that law. The first applicable section of the code states:

Notwithstanding § 39-17-1322 [1], a person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where the person has a right to be has no duty to retreat before threatening or using force against another person 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.

Tenn. Code Ann. §39-11-611(b)(1)

This section is a general defense to a use of force to protect one’s self. The next relevant section deals with the use of deadly force under the “stand your ground defense.” That section states:

Notwithstanding § 39-17-1322, a person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where the person has a right to be has no duty to retreat before threatening or using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury, if:

  1. The person 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.

Tenn. Code Ann. §39-11-611(b)(2)

The Tennessee Pattern Jury instructions explain that “reasonable belief” does not mean that the person claiming self-defense must actually have been in physical danger, but only that he or she reasonably felt that he or she was in jeopardy. The defendant only has to show that he or she was actually in fear of serious bodily injury or death and that the fear was reasonable under the circumstances. In fact, the person claiming self-defense even can be mistaken, based on his or her perception of the circumstance, so long as a reasonable person would have perceived the circumstances the same way.

Strengthening the stand your ground law sections is Tenn. Code Ann. §39-11-203, which provides that if enough evidence is presented during a trial that the jury may consider whether a person acted in self-defense, then the jury must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the person being prosecuted did not act in self-defense.

Taken as a whole, Tennessee has a stand your ground law provision that is similar to the Florida law that was used in the trial of George Zimmerman.; Given the national attention that the Zimmerman trial received, it is likely that states with similar laws will see movements to change the law. Whether a changes will be made to Tennessee law will be up to the public and the legislature to decide.

None of the information above was intended to be used as legal advice. The information is general and not inclusive of all matters of law that could be included in the topics discussed.


[1] Tenn. Code Ann. §39-17-1322 deals with the use of a firearm in self-defense or defense of a third party.

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