Tennessee Domestic Abuse Crimes

Learn about Tennessee's penalties for domestic assault and related offenses.

By , Attorney · University of Houston Law Center
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 4/03/2024

A person who commits domestic violence in Tennessee can face arrest, criminal charges, incarceration, orders of protection, and firearm restrictions. This article provides an overview for anyone who's been accused of domestic violence or is interested in understanding the law. Read on to learn how Tennessee addresses domestic violence, what crimes qualify as domestic violence, and the penalties and consequences for harming a family or household member.

What Is Domestic Abuse in Tennessee?

Crimes involving physical injury, physical restraint, or fear of harm committed against a family or household member are considered domestic abuse crimes. These crimes may include domestic assault, aggravated assault, stalking, harassment, protection order violations, and sexual assault, to name a few.

Domestic Abuse Victims

The law categorizes the offense as domestic abuse if the offender and victim share one of the following relationships:

  • current or former spouses
  • current or former roommates
  • current or former dating or sexual partners
  • persons related by blood or adoption
  • persons currently or formerly related by marriage, or
  • parent and child (including an adult or minor child of the offender or a family or household member).

Domestic Abuse Crimes

One of the most commonly charged domestic abuse crimes is domestic assault. Even though other crimes—like aggravated assault and stalking—are not labeled as "domestic abuse or violence crimes," they carry additional penalties and restrictions if committed against a domestic abuse victim.

What Are Domestic Assault and Aggravated Assault Crimes in Tennessee?

Domestic assault and aggravated assault are distinguished primarily by the level of harm or risk of harm involved.

Domestic Assault Crimes

A person commits assault by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly engaging in conduct that:

  • causes bodily injury to the victim
  • places the victim in reasonable fear imminent bodily injury, or
  • causes physical contact with the victim that is extremely provocative or offensive (and would be to a reasonable person).

The crime is domestic assault when the victim is one of the family or household members listed above who's defined as a "domestic abuse victim."

Aggravated Assault Crimes

When assault results in serious bodily injury or involves a deadly weapon or attempted strangulation (definitions below), the prosecutor can file charges for aggravated assault. A defendant who assaults another person in violation of a restraining order can also face aggravated assault charges.

Serious bodily injury. Serious bodily injury involves significant harm such as a broken bone, disfigurement, loss of a limb, or an injury requiring surgery or hospitalization.

Deadly weapon. An object that's capable of causing death or serious bodily injury constitutes a deadly weapon. Examples include a firearm, a large hunting knife, and brass knuckles. Tennessee courts have ruled that body parts, like fists and feet, do not qualify as deadly weapons.

Strangulation. Strangulation occurs when an offender intentionally obstructs another's normal breathing or blood circulation by applying pressure to their throat or neck or by blocking their nose and mouth.

(Tenn. Code §§ 36-3-601, 39-13-101, 39-13-102, 39-13-111 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Domestic Assault and Aggravated Assault in Tennessee?

Penalties for domestic assault and aggravated assault range from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class B felony.

Penalties for Domestic Assault

A first or second conviction for domestic assault qualifies as a Class A or B misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of the offense. An offender guilty of a Class A misdemeanor—by causing or threatening bodily injury—faces penalties of up to 11 months and 29 days in jail. A Class B misdemeanor conviction—by doing an act that is provocative or offensive—subjects the defendant to up to six months in jail.

Defendants who commit repeat acts of domestic assault face harsher penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences and fines. For certain third or subsequent convictions, the penalty can bump up to a Class E felony, punishably by at least 90 days in jail and up to 6 years in prison.

Penalties for Aggravated Assault

A person convicted of aggravated assault faces a Class B, C, or D felony, depending on the circumstances—for instance, whether the actor committed the assault intentionally or recklessly.

Class D felony. A person who commits aggravated assault involving reckless behavior faces a Class D felony. This felony level carries 2 to 12 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Class C felony. Aggravated assault involving an intentional act, a restraining order violation, or strangulation carries Class C felony penalties. A person guilty of a Class C felony faces 3 to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Class B felony. If a person strangles or attempts to strangle a pregnant woman, the penalty increases to a Class B felony. Class B felonies are punishable by 8 to 30 years of prison time and a $25,000 fine.

A judge must also order a defendant to pay additional fines and fees if the aggravated assault involved a domestic abuse victim.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-13-101, 39-13-102, 39-13-111, 40-35-111 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Domestic Abuse-Related Crimes in Tennessee?

Domestic abuse crimes involve more than assault offenses. Related offenses include stalking, harassment, and violating an order of protection, among other crimes.

Penalties for Stalking and Harassment

A person commits harassment by communicating with another in a harmful, threatening, or offensive manner. The law classifies harassment as either a Class A misdemeanor or a Class E felony.

Stalking involves an offender repeatedly and continually harassing or monitoring a person in a manner that causes the victim to reasonably feel terrorized, frightened, intimated, threatened, harassed, or molested. Three punishment levels exist for stalking, aggravated stalking, and especially aggravated stalking, ranging from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C felony.

Penalties for Violating an Order of Protection

Violating an order of protection or other restraining order—whether issued in civil or criminal court—constitutes a Class A misdemeanor. These court orders typically prohibit the abuser from contacting or harm the victim and impose other restrictions on the abuser.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-13-113, 39-17-308, 39-17-315, 40-35-111 (2024).)

Arrest, Bail, and Firearm Restrictions for Domestic Abuse Crimes in Tennessee

In addition to imprisonment and monetary costs, Tennessee law establishes the following conditions, restrictions, and penalties for domestic abuse cases.

Domestic Abuse Arrests

If police have probable cause to believe an individual committed a domestic abuse-related crime, they can arrest the perpetrator without a warrant, unless a clear and compelling reason exists not to arrest them on the spot. The officer can make the arrest regardless of the crime's severity and even if the officer didn't witness the unlawful conduct. If law enforcement thinks the offender used any weapons in the commission of the crime, those must be seized.

When a defendant is arrested for domestic assault, aggravated assault, or stalking against a domestic abuse victim, there's a mandatory 12-hour hold before release. This hold period increases to 24 hours if a judge has reason to believe the defendant inflicted serious bodily injuries to the victim, strangled the victim, or used or displayed a deadly weapon.

Bail and Pretrial Release

Pretrial release conditions in domestic abuse cases typically include restrictions such as ordering the offender to stay away from and not contact the victim and prohibiting any use of firearms. Judges determine the bail amount and any conditions based on a defendant's flight risk and risk of harm to the victim and others. Depending on the offender's previous criminal record and the severity of the current offense, the judge may require a GPS device in order to monitor the defendant's whereabouts.

Firearm Restrictions

A person convicted of domestic assault loses the right to possess firearms. Additionally, those subject to an order of protection must also refrain from possessing or carrying firearms. Refusing to surrender firearms constitutes a Class A misdemeanor. Federal law contains a similar provision regarding firearm restrictions.

(Tenn. Code §§ 36-3-619, 36-3-620 39-13-111, 40-7-103, 40-11-150 (2024); 18 U.S.C. §§ 921, 922 (2024).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you've been arrested for or charged with a domestic violence-related crime, contact a local criminal defense attorney today. A conviction for domestic assault can become part of your permanent criminal record and negatively impact your ability to find employment or housing or own a firearm. An experienced lawyer will discuss the circumstances unique to your situation, formulate possible defenses, and protect your constitutional rights.

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