American jurisdictions diverge on the issue of the use of deadly force to defend oneself, with the majority of states applying no duty to retreat, including the State of Tennessee.

The current statutory revisions to the traditional duty to retreat have deep historical roots:

“Americans rejected such English cowardice just as they rejected English rule; thus, a majority of Americans gained the right to stand their ground and defend themselves as their fledgling country gained its independence from England.” 30 NOVA L. REV. 159, 160 (2005).

Many laws have granted additional rights altering traditional retreat rules. Popularly known as “Castle Laws,” and “Stand Your Ground Laws,” most states have statutes that offer specific protections in the use of self-defense that dispose of the antiquated duty to retreat. Like the expansion of gun rights, this area of self-defense law has seen remarkable growth, particularly in the number of Castle and Stand Your Ground laws.

What is Castle Doctrine?

The Castle Doctrine is a set of laws that enhance the traditional expression of self-defense law. Whereas traditional self-defense requires a proportional response to the force used, the Castle Doctrine (under the right circumstances) creates a presumption that lethal force is authorized against an unlawful intruder in one’s home, place of business, or vehicle.

Although Tennessee law never uses the term “Castle Doctrine” anywhere, the ideas encompassed by the Castle Doctrine are found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-611(c). which states:

“Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury 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 that force is used 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.”

Presumptions

There are some important exceptions to gaining the benefit of the presumption found in the Castle Doctrine, including but not limited to those who have the right to be in or are lawful residents of the dwelling, business, residence, or vehicle and law enforcement officers who have entered in the performance of their lawful duties.

Also, it is extremely important to understand where the benefit of the Castle Doctrine presumption applies. Tennessee extends the extra protections of the Castle Doctrine to those within any of the following:

  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;
  2. “Dwelling” – a building or conveyance of any kind (including any attached porch), 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;
  3. “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; and
  4. “Vehicle” – any motorized vehicle that is self-propelled and designed for use on public highways to transport people or property.

Criminal Use of Deadly Force

Further, to deal with the criminal use of deadly force, the State of Tennessee recognizes a person’s right to use deadly force in self-defense. The State of Tennessee does not require its populous to first retreat before exercising deadly force, so long as: (1) an individual 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.

Popularly dubbed “Stand Your Ground,” laws, these laws authorize an individual to defend themselves against threats and perceived threats while in public without retreating.

If you have any questions on Castle Doctrine protections or Stand Your Ground laws, please contact U.S. LawShield and ask to be connected to your Independent Program Attorney.


The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.