Simple Assault in Tennessee

Learn how Tennessee defines and punishes simple assault crime, what defenses may be available, and whether jail time is likely.

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

You can face assault charges in Tennessee even if a victim suffers no harm. Learn how Tennessee defines and punishes simple assault crimes.

Understanding Simple Assault Charges in Tennessee

Three ways exist to commit simple assault in Tennessee. A person can face simple assault charges by knowingly or intentionally:

  • causing another person bodily injuries
  • causing another person to reasonably fear imminent bodily injuries, or
  • making offensive physical contact with another person.

When bodily injuries result, a defendant's reckless acts can also result in charges.

Defining Bodily Injuries and Offensive Contact

Bodily injuries can include a cut, abrasion, bruise, burn, disfigurement (like a scar), physical pain, or temporary impairment.

Offensive contact might include angrily grabbing or pushing someone, pulling at someone's clothes, or spitting on someone.

Defining Intentional, Knowing, and Reckless Acts

Prosecutors can charge simple assault for any of the above acts when a defendant acted intentionally or knowingly—meaning the defendant wanted to cause the harm or knew harm would occur. Punching, slapping, or kicking someone are examples of intentional or knowing acts.

If bodily injuries result, the prosecutor can also file simple assault charges for reckless acts. A defendant acts recklessly by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm. For instance, throwing a glass beer bottle at a wall right next to the victim is a reckless act that could easily result in glass shattering and harming the victim.

How Simple Assault Becomes Aggravated Assault

More serious injuries (broken bones, injuries requiring surgery) and attempted strangulation can lead to aggravated assault charges. A defendant's use of a deadly weapon also bumps up the offense level. And prosecutors can charge aggravated assault if the defendant caused or attempted to cause bodily injuries to a victim protected by a restraining or no-contact order.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-11-102, 39-11-106, 39-13-101, 39-13-102 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Simple Assault in Tennessee?

Simple assault charges carry misdemeanor penalties in Tennessee.

Class A Misdemeanor Assault

An assault in which the offender causes bodily injury or threatens the victim with immediate bodily harm is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail or a fine up to $2,500, or both. When bodily harm results, the possible fine increases to $15,000.

Class B Misdemeanor Assault

Physical contact that is provocative or offensive carries Class B misdemeanor penalties of up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both.

Assault of a First Responder or Nurse

Any assault of a first responder or nurse who's performing their duties will be a class A misdemeanor with mandatory minimum penalties. The defendant must serve at least 30 days in jail and pay a minimum $5,000 fine.

First responders include police, firefighters, EMTs, and any other officers or employees who respond to 911 calls.

Domestic Assault

An assault is a domestic assault in Tennessee if the offender and victim are family or household members, including current and former spouses and dating partners. For more information on domestic assault, check out Tennessee Domestic Abuse Crimes.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-13-116, 40-35-111 (2024).)

How to Beat Simple Assault Charges in Tennessee

A person facing simple 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 or Defense of Others

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. (Tenn. Code §§ 39-11-611, 39-11-612 (2024).)

Raise Reasonable Doubt

The defense might also try to poke holes in the prosecution's case by arguing the prosecution failed to prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In these types of cases, the defense might be able to get the charges dismissed or reduced.

For example, a defendant might argue their actions were accidental (not reckless or intentional)—say someone bumped into the defendant and the defendant bumped into the victim. Or, if the assault took place in a dark bar or alley, the defense might argue someone else committed the crime or that the prosecution can't prove it was the defendant.

Will You Go to Jail for Simple Assault in Tennessee?

It depends. Judges will review the circumstances of the assault, as well as the defendant's criminal history, when determining a sentence. If appropriate, a judge may order an alternative to jail.

First-time offenders are most likely to receive a sentencing alternative to jail, such as probation or a diversion program. These alternatives generally require a defendant to abide by conditions (such as no drug or alcohol use) and attend classes or treatment programs (such as AA or anger management courses).

Judges might not be as lenient when it comes to repeat offenders or offenders who are public safety risks. These offenders might have to serve all or most of their sentences behind bars.

For any simple assault conviction, the judge can order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim. Restitution reimburses 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.

(Tenn. Code §§ 40-35-103, 40-35-303 (2024).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you face charges for simple assault, talk to a criminal defense lawyer. A conviction could result in a permanent record. A lawyer can help you understand the charges, evaluate plea options, prepare a defense, and protect your rights.

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