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Justifiable Defense in Assault and Battery

Arguing that justifiable defense was needed in an assault and battery situation can be tricky, especially if the perpetrator tries to use the claim as an all-purpose argument to end the debate.

Image of man handcuffed with cell bar shadows in the background. Perhaps, justifiable defense for assault?

Self-defense remains a solid argument to avoid serious penalties in the state of Tennessee. However, the term “self-defense” tends to get lumped in with a variety of other similar-sounding legal terms that don’t necessarily work together. If you should be facing criminal charges and you believe your action was justifiable in the situation, it’s important to work with legal experts to make that argument.

Some Terminology

First, some definitions. Assault can refer to any action that causes a person to believe they will suffer bodily harm, which includes threats and intimidation. Battery refers to situations where physical harm actually occurred.

Assault and battery can exist independently; a person can commit battery without threatening assault, and an assault could obviously occur without the follow-through of actual violence.

Self-defense can refer to any countermeasure actions taken for the purpose of defending yourself and others from harm in times of danger. Tennessee law affords citizens the right to protect themselves from injury from others, but that may require you to engage in actions that would be considered criminal in other circumstances.


The largest complication with self-defense rests with the almost Catch-22 problem of the situation: if you’re about to suffer an attack and respond with assault and battery, you might be charged with a crime, even if you believe you were defending yourself.

For example, if you were out in a public place when a person threatens you with assault (action that causes a person to believe they will suffer bodily harm), you may have reason to believe they will follow through with the threat. If you felt you had no choice but to defend yourself from bodily harm, you will have to prove the situation required the actions you took. Your prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your actions had criminal intent, while you will have to show how your actions were justified given the situation.

The amount of force used in your defense against assault and battery plays a key factor in your argument, too. If a person threatens you and you respond by battering them with a blunt object, the argument of self-defense may not be questioned. However, if the person committed battery by punching and you punched back, self-defense becomes a more feasible justification for your actions.

Stand Your Ground May Not Apply

Tennessee is one of the 20-plus states that have a “Stand Your Ground” law on the books, but the law applies when a person is in or on their own property. The law affords some protection to you should the need to defend yourself and others from a home invasion or an attempt by another person to commit a serious criminal act. That last part needs to be stressed. For example, if you walk outside and discover an unarmed person trying to steal gas from your vehicle, shooting them (deadly force) may not be an acceptable response, as it may be questionable that their act of stealing gas justified your action of shooting and possibly killing them.

To learn more about defense if you have been charged with assault and battery, contact the Clarke Law Firm today.