Tennessee Criminal Attorney Blog
October 24, 2023

Assault and Self-Defense: When Can You Use Force Legally?



Criminal Defense AttorneyIn Tennessee, the law provides certain protections to individuals who use force in self-defense. This blog post explores the circumstances under which an individual can legally use force in self-defense and the role of a criminal defense attorney in such cases. 

Deciphering when this use of force is legally permissible is vital to defendants in such cases. This requires an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows the nuances of Tennessee self-defense law and can present a compelling argument in your favor.

If you have been charged with assault in Nashville, but believe that you acted in self-defense, the Nashville criminal defense attorneys at M. Don Himmelberg & Associates are well-versed in Tennessee’s legal landscape, particularly in issues of assault and self-defense. 

Assault in Tennessee 

In Tennessee, assault occurs when one person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another or makes another reasonably fear imminent bodily injury. The interpretation of these elements, especially “reasonable fear,” is subjective and often requires thorough legal analysis.

Self-Defense in Tennessee Assault Cases

Tennessee’s self-defense laws stipulate that you may use reasonable force to protect yourself or another from imminent harm. However, the force applied must be proportional to the threat you perceive. 

If you have been charged with assault under these circumstances, a crucial factor is whether you reasonably believed such force was necessary. It is unlawful to use force if you provoked the confrontation or if you can safely avoid the confrontation.

Tennessee’s self-defense law, specifically Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-611, lays out the instances where force, even deadly force, can be used in self-defense. Here are the main takeaways:

  • Defending Others 

You are allowed to use reasonable force to defend another person, as long as you reasonably believe that person is in imminent danger.

  • Defending Property

Force can be used to prevent or terminate someone’s unlawful entry into or attack upon your home. But here’s where it gets tricky: deadly force can only be used if you have a reasonable belief that there’s an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.

  • Reasonable Belief

The crux of self-defense claims in Tennessee is whether you had a reasonable belief that using force was necessary. This concept requires an examination of your perspective at the time of the incident. An experienced criminal defense attorney in Nashville can examine the facts, analyze witness statements, and, if applicable, assess any existing biases against you.

  • Proportionality of Force

When using force in self-defense, the applied force must be proportional to the threat faced. For instance, using deadly force is generally unjustified unless you are preventing serious bodily harm or death. The nuanced understanding of what is “proportional” is pivotal in self-defense cases and varies based on the circumstances surrounding the incident.

  • Duty to Retreat 

Tennessee’s self-defense law typically imposes a duty to retreat before using force in self-defense, unless you are in a place where you have a right to be, such as your home (The Castle Doctrine, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-611(b)(2)) or a place you have a lawful right to be and are not engaged in unlawful activities (Tennessee’s “Stand Your Ground” Law, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1322). These provisions are crucial, especially in cases where you had the opportunity to retreat to avoid confrontation but chose not to do so.

The Importance of an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Assault Cases in Tennessee

In the courtroom, things aren’t as black and white as the written law. How the situation unfolded, witness testimonies, the context—everything comes into play. An experienced Nashville criminal defense attorney knows the nuances of Tennessee’s self-defense law and can present a compelling argument in your favor.

Did you use force out of genuine fear for your life? Was the threat real and imminent? These are questions that need detailed answers. With the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney, Nashville defendants can dissect every detail of the case against them, gather evidence, consult experts, and ensure their side of the story is told, and heard, loud and clear.


Navigating Tennessee’s self-defense law can be difficult, necessitating a deep understanding of the statutes and prevailing case law. The nuanced elements, such as reasonable belief and proportionality of force, are pivotal in determining the legality of your actions.

An experienced criminal defense attorney in Nashville, like those at M. Don Himmelberg & Associates, can dissect the particulars of your case, ensuring your rights and interests are protected. In cases like these, where every detail can tip the scales, having seasoned legal counsel is indispensable.

Contact a Nashville Criminal Defense Attorney at M. Don Himmelberg & Associates 

Facing an assault charge? Believe you acted in self-defense? Reach out to the experienced team at M. Don Himmelberg & Associates. 

Our Nashville criminal defense attorneys play a crucial role in defending individuals charged with assault who claim self-defense. We can help you navigate the intricate legal process, gather evidence supporting your self-defense claim, and present persuasive arguments to a judge or jury.

Remember, you are not alone in this process; we are just one phone call away! Contact M. Don Himmelberg & Associates for an initial consultation, and to discuss the unique details of your situation.

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