Tennessee Domestic Violence Laws
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Domestic assault in Tennessee is an assault against a victim who is a family or household member including:
- a current or former spouse of the offender
- person with whom the offender resides or previously resided
- person who the offender is dating or previously dated or someone with whom the offender has or previously had a sexual relationship
- someone with whom the offender is related by blood or adoption
- a person with whom the offender is or was related by marriage, and
- an adult or minor child of the offender or a family or household member. (Tenn. Code Ann. §36-3-601, §39-13-11.)
The sections below explain domestic violence in more detail.
Assault in Tennessee
Assault is defined in Tennessee as simple assault or aggravated assault. Simple assault consists of:
- intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury to another person
- causing a person to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury; or
- causing physical contact with another that a reasonable person would find extremely provocative or offensive. (Tenn. Code Ann. §39-13-101.)
For more information on simple assault, see Simple Assault in Tennessee.
Aggravated assault consists of:
- intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing serious bodily injury to another person
- committing an assault using or displaying a deadly weapon
- intentionally or knowingly attempting to cause bodily injury by strangulation, or
- intentionally or knowingly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury to another or committing or attempting to commit an assault while under an order, diversion or probation agreement that prohibits such actions. (Tenn. Code Ann. §39-13-102.)
For more information on aggravated assault, see Aggravated Assault in Tennessee.
If a person in a domestic dispute intends to injure another and does so, he is guilty of assault. If an assailant intends to cause serious injury to a family or household member and does so, he is guilty of aggravated assault. An act committed recklessly that causes physical injury or serious physical injury to the victim also can constitute domestic assault.
A reckless act is one that is deliberately committed without regard for the outcome. Pushing someone out of the way in a crowd so that you can get through, without intending to injure the person, could be an assault if the person falls and is injured.
Bodily Injury and Serious Bodily Injury
An assault resulting in serious bodily injury is a more serious crime than an assault resulting in bodily injury. The term bodily injury refers to minor injury like a cut, scrape, or bruise. Serious bodily injury involves significant harm such as a broken bone, disfigurement, loss of a limb, or an injury requiring surgery or hospitalization.
A deadly weapon is an object that by definition is capable of causing or designed to cause death or serious bodily injury – for instance, a firearm, large hunting knife, or brass knuckles. An object that may not normally be a weapon but is used in an assault in a manner likely to cause death or serious bodily injury also can be considered a deadly weapon. A rope used to strangle someone or a metal pipe or baseball bat used to strike or attempt to strike someone are all dangerous weapons because of the manner in which they were used. The courts in Tennessee have ruled, however, that body parts like fists and feet are not deadly weapons.
Penalties for Domestic Assault in Tennessee
The penalties for domestic assault in Tennessee are the same as those for general assault crimes (see the articles referenced above for penalties). In addition, the offender will lose his right to carry a firearm permanently and will be required to pay a special fine that is used to fund family violence shelters and shelter programs.
Assault is a Class A or Class B misdemeanor. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail or a fine up $2500, or both. A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine up to $500, or both.
Aggravated assault is a Class C or Class D felony depending on the circumstances – for instance, whether the assault was intentional or reckless. A Class C felony is punishable by 3 to 15 years in prison and a fine up $10,000. A Class D felony is punishable by 2 to 12 years in prison and a fine up to $5000.
A person convicted of domestic assault in Tennessee may be required to pay restitution, which involves reimbursing the victim for any expenses resulting from the crime, such as the cost of medical treatment or counseling or repair or replacement of damaged property.
Judicial Diversion, Suspended Sentence and Probation
Tennessee law provides certain alternatives to a jail or prison sentence for a person charged with or convicted of domestic assault in Tennessee.
After a defendant is convicted or pleads guilty to a domestic assault charge, and if the defendant has no prior misdemeanor convictions for which jail time was imposed and no felony convicttions, the court may grant judicial diversion (also known as a deferred sentence). This means that the court postpones sentencing for a period of time on the condition that the defendant successfully complies with probation and certain other requirements, such as no new arrests or criminal offenses during the conditional period, completing psychological treatment, or doing volunteer work in the community. If the defendant satisfies all the court’s requirements, the court will discharge the defendant and dismiss the case. The arrest, diversion, and dismissal will be part of the defendant’s criminal record. If the defendant fails to satisfy the court’s requirements, the court will impose a sentence and enter a conviction.
If the court suspends a sentence, the court imposes a jail or prison sentence but allows the defendant to serve all or a portion of the time on probation rather than in jail or prison. The defendant must successfully complete probation and any other conditions the court imposes; a defendant who fails to do so can be required to complete the sentence in jail or prison. A person on supervised probation must meet with a probation officer and comply with conditions such as undergoing treatment, maintaining employment, respecting curfews, submitting to drug tests, paying probation costs as required by the court, and avoiding any further criminal activity or arrests.
Pleas and Pre-Trial Options
If you are facing a domestic assault charge in Tennessee, you'll benefit from having an attorney who can investigate the case and determine if you were wrongfully charged or if there are other grounds on which the case could be dismissed before trial. An attorney also may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor on your behalf, or prepare a defense and represent you at trial, if you believe you have been wrongly accused or if there are no reasonable plea options. Prosecutors may negotiate and agree to a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea or to the defendant pleading guilty to a different, less serious crime.
The Value of Good Representation
A conviction for domestic assault becomes part of your permanent criminal record. If you are convicted later of another crime, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case. A convicted felon loses the right to vote and can lose certain professional licenses. A conviction for domestic assault – even a misdemeanor – can hurt you when you are looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment.
Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.