Monday, July 15, 2013

LETHAL FORCE


LETHAL FORCE IN TENNESSEE

With all the news surrounding the Zimmerman case, you may wonder what rules we have in Tennessee. Since I am an injury lawyer, the only shooting cases I handle personally are accidental shootings.

However, as a concealed carry permit owner in Tennessee and a practicing attorney for 17 years, I am familiar with the laws in my home state regarding the regrettable use of deadly force.  You can read our statute, called Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 39-11-611, online. 

But here it is its most basic form:
Deadly force may only be used if you or another have a reasonable belief of imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.

Statutes are strictly construed.  That means that each and every one of these elements must be present or you will be in the wrong. Let’s work through each word in the pertinent section above.
“Reasonable belief” means that 12 jurors, two years later better believe that you were reasonable under the circumstances.

“Imminent” is derived from the Latin: “to project, threaten, from mountain.” This is the vivid idea of a large overhanging slab of rock projecting from the mountain, just above your head. If it begins to slide, you have no real time to react.  That’s the idea. So if Bubba says on the phone he is going to kill you after work today, that’s not anywhere near imminent. If, on the other hand, he corners you in a dark alley, and puts a knife to your throat telling you he is going to kill you, this is “imminent.”

“Danger of death or serious bodily injury” would not normally include merely a fat lip.  Also, we are talking of life, not stuff.   Your junk in your shed cannot fear for its life, so it cannot be protected with lethal force. However, that may lead to a confrontation that does threaten your life, or the life of another.   No warning, or warning shot is needed. You need not retreat. If a break in occurs to your home or car while you are in it, the danger is presumed.

If in a shooting, leading criminal defense attorneys seem to agree that you simply ask for your counsel, and then remain silent. Medical care would be a good idea, to make sure you do not have a heart attack. It may also verify the lack of alcohol or drugs in you.  By the time you are released, your lawyer can talk with you.

As for gun control making us safer, my stance is that “if guns cause crime, then matches cause arson and spoons make us fat.”