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Tennessee General Law Blog

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Should a Sexual Assault Victim be Allowed to Use Deadly Force in TN?

Under current Tennessee law, a person is not justified in using deadly force in self-defense to deter sexual assault and rape. Instead, for a victim of sexual assault to prove that the use of deadly force was “necessary,” he or she must demonstrate a fear of serious bodily injury or death.

Here is the problem: The state law’s definition of “serious bodily injury” does not explicitly include rape. However, Tennessee lawmakers are determined to add “rape” to justifications for the use of deadly force in 2020.

Tennessee Law Does Not Justify the Use of Deadly Force in Self-Defense Against Rape

As reported by The Tennessean, Tennessee lawmakers decided to strengthen the state’s laws related to self-defense after discussions focused on a crackdown on crime.

In 2020, lawmakers will introduce legislation that justifies the use of deadly force by victims of rape and sexual assault to escape threats to their personal safety and avoid serious bodily injury.

Fact : In 2018, there were 2,288 reported crimes of “forcible rape” in Tennessee, 359 cases of statutory rape, and 226 cases of sexual assault with an object.

Females are approximately seven times more likely to be assaulted in Tennessee. For years, if not decades, law enforcement agencies across the state presumed that victims of rape have the right to use deadly force. However, as it turns out, the use of deadly force is not authorized for victims of sexual assault under Tennessee’s current state law.

The new legislation is set to protect victims of violent crimes by justifying the use of deadly force in self-defense when faced with the threat or attempt of sexual assault.

Fact : In Coffee County, TN, there were three reported cases of forcible rape in 2018 and 112 crimes of simple assault.

When Does Current Tennessee Law Permit the Use of Deadly Force?

If a person cannot use deadly force to deter sexual assault, what circumstances justify using it to defend yourself? Under current Tennessee law, the use of deadly force is permitted only when a person, who is not in the process of committing anything illegal and is in a place where he/she has the right to be:

Tennessee Lawmakers Planning to Enhance Penalties for Sexual Assault

The justification of the use of deadly force to protect oneself against rape in Tennessee is not the only thing Tennessee lawmakers will address through legislation in 2020. Legislators are also planning to increase penalties against offenders by introducing aggravating circumstances in sexual assault cases.

Under current Tennessee law, penalties for sexual assault range from a Class A felony to a Class E felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to 60 years and up to six years, respectively. However, state lawmakers are determined to enhance penalties for these crimes in order to keep offenders behind bars for longer.

Tennessee legislators are also planning to enable victims of sexual assault to submit video testimony instead of testifying in person. The testimony would be used by parole boards when the offender shows up for a hearing.

Also, the new law would make it easier for sexual assault victims to obtain orders of protection, as well as introduce additional protections.

Contact our Manchester sexual assault defense attorneys at Law Offices of Burch, Morrison, & Stewart to look for viable ways to defend yourself against criminal charges in Tennessee. Call at (931) 954-1066 for a case evaluation.

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