Tennessee Aggravated Assault Laws

Learn how Tennessee defines and punishes aggravated assaults.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated June 04, 2024

Aggravated assaults carry felony penalties in Tennessee. Learn how Tennessee defines and punishes aggravated assault offenses.

Understanding Aggravated Assault Charges in Tennessee

Aggravated assault crimes typically involve serious bodily injuries, use or display of a deadly weapon, strangulation or attempted strangulation, or protected victims. Here are some definitions.

Serious bodily injuries involve significant harm or pain, such as a broken bone, disfigurement, loss of a limb, serious stab or gun wound, or an injury requiring surgery or hospitalization. They are more than minor injuries like cuts, scrapes, or bruises.

Deadly weapons are objects that by definition are capable of or designed to cause death or serious bodily injury, such as a firearm, large hunting knife, or brass knuckles. Other objects can also be deadly weapons by how they're used—for instance, a rope used to strangle someone or a metal pipe or baseball bat used to strike someone.

Strangulation involves intentionally or knowingly impeding another's normal breathing or blood circulation by applying pressure to the throat or neck or blocking their nose and mouth, regardless of whether visible injuries are apparent.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-11-106, 39-13-102 (2024).)

What Is Aggravated Assault in Tennessee?

A prosecutor can file charges for aggravated assault in the following situations.

Serious Bodily Injuries

Anytime a victim suffers "serious physical injuries," the crime is aggravated assault.

Deadly Weapon or Strangulation

Even if only bodily injuries or offensive contact result, a prosecutor can file aggravated assault charges when the defendant used or displayed a deadly weapon or strangled the victim.

A person also commits aggravated assault by intentionally or knowingly placing a victim in fear of imminent harm while using or displaying a deadly weapon or strangling the victim.

Restraining Order Violation

Tennessee law makes it an aggravated assault for a defendant to violate a restraining order by intentionally or knowingly attempting to assault the protected individuals.

Parent Fails to Protect Child From Aggravated Assault or Abuse

A parent or custodian who intentionally fails or refuses to protect their child from aggravated assault or child abuse can face aggravated assault charges. This section also applies to custodians of adults.

(Tenn. Code § 39-13-102 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Aggravated Assault in Tennessee?

Most aggravated assault crimes carry Class C felony penalties, punishable by 3 to 15 years of prison time. Aggravated assaults involving reckless acts are Class D felonies with potential prison sentences of 2 to 12 years. Judges can order fines up to $15,000 and restitution for any aggravated assault conviction.

Enhanced penalties apply in the following situations.

Shooting from a vehicle. An aggravated assault involving discharging a firearm from a vehicle increases the penalty by one felony level.

Child victim. An aggravated assault resulting in serious bodily injuries or death increases by one felony level if the victim is a minor.

Pregnant victim. Aggravated assault involving strangulation of a pregnant woman is a class B felony.

First responders. Aggravated assault committed against a nurse or first responder (police officer, firefighter, EMT, or other emergency responder) carries a mandatory $15,000 fine and a mandatory minimum 90-day sentence.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-13-102, 36-13-116 (2024).)

Possible Defenses to Aggravated Assault Charges in Tennessee

A person facing aggravated assault charges can fight the charges in several ways, including by poking holes in the prosecution's case or by raising an affirmative defense.

Self-defense. A defendant might claim self-defense or defense of others if the alleged victim started the altercation or was about to. To be successful, the defendant can only use as much force as is reasonably necessary to protect against the other's use or attempted use of unlawful force. A jury must acquit a defendant if they present a valid self-defense case. (Tenn. Code §§ 39-11-611, 39-11-612 (2024).)

Reasonable doubt. The defense might also try to poke holes in the prosecution's case by arguing the prosecution failed to prove the required intent or resulting harm beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, a defendant might argue the victim's injuries didn't rise to the level of serious bodily harm or that an object used in the offense wasn't a "deadly weapon." These types of arguments could result in dismissal or reduced charges of simple assault.

Alibi or wrong defendant. The defense attorney might argue the cops got the wrong person—say, for example, if the assault happened in a crowded room or a dark alley. The defendant could also present an alibi if they were somewhere else when the assault occurred. If successful, this defense could result in an acquittal.

Talk to a Lawyer

Aggravated assault charges are serious. Talk to a criminal defense lawyer if you're facing charges or an investigation. An attorney can help you understand the charges, defend your case, and protect your rights.

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