Self-defense laws in the US typically justify a person’s use of lethal force in public in situations where lethal force was necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm to themselves or another person. Traditionally, these laws have been clear that taking human life is not necessary, and is therefore not justified, if the person could have avoided using lethal violence by retreating, or simply stepping away from a confrontation. A person does not have a duty to retreat from a conflict before using force in their home, however (known as the Castle Doctrine).1
Stand your ground laws upend centuries of legal tradition, allowing a person to use deadly force in self-defense in public, even if that force can be safely avoided by retreating or when nonlethal force would suffice.
Tennessee has a stand your ground law which removes the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense when a person is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where a person has a right to be.2 The state’s laws also make it harder to properly investigate these cases by limiting law enforcement’s ability to arrest someone who claims to have acted in self defense.3
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- American Bar Association, “National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws: Report and Recommendations,” (September 2015): 1.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-611(b)(2).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1322.