Defense to Murder Charges

Since Trayvon Martin’s death much has been written and spoken on the news. It is a daily topic of discussion in the media. What would be different about the case if it happened in Tennessee rather than Florida. My first thought would be that Mr. Zimmerman would be under arrest. Tennessee criminal laws on self defense are completely different than Florida as well as the Grand Jury process.

Under Florida law, they have a wacky law on self defense called the " Stand Your Ground Law ". I am surprised we do not have the same law in Tennessee with the State Legislature’s fascination with gun laws. The stand your ground law sets forth that anyone who perceives that their life is threatened is not required to retreat and has a right to use a weapon . Tennessee has no such law today. It also has a component that law enforcement must prove that the accused did not act in self defense and requires a pre-trial hearing to determine immunity. Under Tennessee criminal law , a jury decides if self defense is a viable defense. There is no pre-trial hearing to avoid a trial. Here is Tennessee’s jury instruction on self defense ;


            Included in the defendant’s plea of not guilty is [his] [her] plea of self-defense.

            When a person is assaulted, by the [use of force] [attempted use of force], in such a way as to create in his or her mind a reasonable belief that he or she is in imminent and actual danger of [death] [serious bodily injury], he or she will be justified in [threatening] [using] force to defend himself or herself even to the extent of killing another human being.  The [threat] [use] of force can only be to the degree reasonably believed to be immediately necessary to protect against the other’s [use] [attempted use] of unlawful force.  The danger creating the belief of imminent [death] [serious bodily injury] must be real, or honestly believed to be real at the time, and must be founded upon reasonable grounds.1

            A person may have been mistaken, based on his or her  perception of the circumstances, as to the extent of the actual danger, but if he or she acts in self-defense from honest, even though mistaken, convictions as to the extent of danger he or she will not be held criminally liable for his or her action.

            In determining whether the defendant’s [threat] [use] of force in defending [himself] [herself] was reasonable, you may consider not only [his] [her] [threat] [use] of force but also all the facts and circumstances surrounding and leading up to it.  Factors to consider in deciding whether there were reasonable grounds for the defendant to fear [death] [serious bodily injury] from the [deceased] [alleged victim] include but are not limited to any previous threats of the [deceased] [alleged victim] made known to the defendant; the character of the [deceased] [alleged victim] for violence, when known to the defendant; the animosity of the [deceased] [alleged victim] for the defendant, as revealed to the defendant by previous acts and words of the [deceased] [alleged victim]; and the manner in which the parties were armed and their relative strengths and sizes.

            If you find that the defendant’s fears of [death] [serious bodily injury] were genuine and reasonable under the circumstances, then [he] [she] would have had the right to [threaten] [use] as much force as was apparently necessary in [his] [her] own self-defense.  If, on the other hand, you find that the defendant was not genuinely or reasonably fearful of [death] [serious bodily injury], or that [he] [she] [threatened] [used] force going beyond the real or apparent necessity for [his] [her] own defense, then [his] [her] [threat] [use] of force would not have been justified

Continue Reading The Trayvon Martin Case Under Tennessee Law