Does Tennessee Observe the Castle Doctrine?

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Self-defense as a defense is a volatile topic. As an affirmative defense, it acknowledges that the accused did the action alleged, but for justifiable reasons that recontextualize the nature of the action. How courtrooms understand self-defense varies state by state. States apply different doctrines, and sometimes one state applies the same broad doctrine differently than another state. This article will explain how Tennessee understands self-defense by explaining both the Castle and Stand Your Ground Doctrines. To learn more about these doctrines as well as receive personalized advice if you have been charged with a crime, call a Memphis criminal defense attorney right away.

Castle and Stand Your Ground Doctrine in Other States

Before explaining how these approaches to self-defense function in Tennessee, it is useful to address the larger context of how these function across the United States. castle doctrine is often used in various states where stand your ground doctrine is not, but self-defense in Tennesse has combined aspects of both.

Reaching back to 1600s English law, castle doctrine has its roots in a 1604 defense by Sir Edward Coke that sheriffs could not enter someone’s house with however much force they wanted, because every man’s home is his safest refuge, or as the phrase has come to be known colloquially, “every man’s home is his castle.”

States like New Jersey and New York combine castle doctrine with a duty to retreat. Thus these states acknowledge that someone facing imminent harm has a duty to avoid the confrontation by de-escalating or leaving the area, except when an intruder has entered their home. In that case, the person under threat is allowed to use reasonable force to defend themselves and their property.

Stand your ground doctrine, by comparison, involves no duty to flee. On the contrary, stand your ground laws even allow someone to use deadly force in self-defense when another person threatens them with substantial injury or death, so long as the court determines the amount of force used was necessary. Critics have argued that stand your ground laws give too much leeway for someone to merely perceive someone else as a threat and so kill them, a dynamic that has painful overtones given the racial history of the United States.

Castle and Stand Your Ground Doctrine in Tennessee

Unlike those states that opt for either castle or stand your ground doctrine, Tennessee has incorporated both into its self-defense statute, Tennessee Code Annotated §39-11-611, subsection a for the stand your ground part and subsection b for the castle doctrine. Both have limiting requirements: §39-11-611(a) allows only as much force as necessary and §39-11-611(b) requires the defendant to have had a reasonable fear of death or serious injury.