Domestic Assault in Tennessee

By Attorney Eric J. Yowi
June 22, 2016

Domestic Assault is often in the news and this week is no exception, with a recent headline in Memphis being "Wrestler Jerry Lawler, fiancee told to stay away from each other."ii The two appear to both be charged with domestic assault and their situation appears quite common in Tennessee. Recent statistics by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation evidence that between 2013 and 2015, more than 232,000 incidents of domestic assault were reported to law enforcement. During that period, 276 of those incidents resulted in homicide.iii

If you have been charged with Domestic Assault, there are very serious issues of which you need to be aware, not the least of which is your pressing need for a competent defense attorney who is familiar with the law on Domestic Assault in Tennessee. The attorneys at Goble & Yow, PLLC, represent citizens accused of domestic crimes such as Domestic Assault, Vandalism, and Interference with 911 Calls, as well as in petitions for or defense against Orders of Protection. With our experience and continuous study of the periodic changes in the laws, you will be very well served to obtain a free consultation with the lawyers at Goble & Yow.


In Tennessee, domestic assault victims must meet the necessary relationship nexus under the statute (T.C.A. § 39-13-111, 36-3-601). In short, the relationship between the accused and the alleged victim must meet one of the following conditions:

  • Adults or minors who are current or former spouses
  • Adults or minors who live together or who have lived together
  • Adults or minors who are dating, have dated, or who have had a sexual relationship, but not merely two individuals fraternizing in a business or social context
  • Adults or minors related by blood or adoption
  • Adults or minors formerly related by marriage
  • Adults or minor children of a person in a relationship described above

As you can see, the relationship status required is quite expansive and can include a wide range of individuals’ relationships. If the requisite relationship status is not met, your attorney will attack the charge and seek to have it amended, at a bare minimum, to the offense of "assault," which carries different ramifications than "domestic assault." Both are misdemeanors, but as you can see below, domestic crimes create more burdens on the accused. In any event, you want an attorney who will fight for you!


It makes sense to understand the underlying definition of assault, for purposes of preparing the best defense possible. Statutorily, assaults may be classified as Simple Assault (a misdemeanor) or Aggravated Assault (a felony). Simple Assaults are defined in T.C.A. §39-13-101 as the following acts:

  • Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another
  • Intentionally or knowingly causing another to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury
  • Intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another and a reasonable person would regard the contact as extremely offensive or provocative.

Simple Assault is a class A misdemeanor, unless it is merely an offensive touching, in which case it is a class B misdemeanor. The most common forms of Aggravated Assault require the additional element of intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing serious bodily injury, the use or display of a deadly weapon, attempting to cause or causing injury by strangulation, or committing an assault while under an order, diversion, or probation agreement that prohibits such. Aggravated Assault, as such, is a class C or D felony, depending on the circumstances. (There are other, less common forms of Aggravated Assault. See T.C.A. § 39-13-102 for more.) Make sure that you consult with an attorney who is intimately familiar with the details of the statutes which specifically apply to your case.


If the allegation is that the alleged victim suffered bodily injury, it is important to understand the extent of the injury and what is required to be present by statute. If the injury is relatively minor, such as a scrape, cut, bruise, or even, in some cases, a broken nose, then the assault would likely remain a simple assault. However, if the bodily injury involves significant harm such as a broken bone, disfigurement, loss of a limb, gunshot, knife wound, or an injury requiring serious medical treatment, then the assault likely rises to the level of Aggravated Assault.


A relatively recent modification of the Aggravated Assault statute added the component of strangulation. The statute defines strangulation as "intentionally or knowingly impeding normal breathing or circulation of the blood by applying pressure to the throat or neck or by blocking the nose and mouth of another person, regardless of whether that conduct results in any visible injury or whether the person has any intent to kill or protractedly injure the victim." Merely placing hands on someone’s neck, for instance, does not make an assault aggravated, as the state will have to prove that such was intended to or actually impeded normal breathing or circulation of the blood. One defendant said, "I didn’t strangle her. I only choked her." The law makes it clear that no matter what you call it, if you intended to or actually impeded breathing or blood flow then then it may rise to the level of aggravated assault. The attorneys at Goble & Yow have strategized in many cases to attack the most obvious weakness in the state’s case, which is sometimes the simple fact that state may not be able to prove that the defendant’s actions were intended to or actually impeded breathing or blood flow.


A deadly weapon can be the obvious gun or knife, but it can also be anything manifestly designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting death or serious bodily injury. It could also include anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. In most hands a baseball bat is a deadly weapon, while in some hands a pencil could become such. While courts in Tennessee have found that fists and feet are not deadly weapons, things like metal pipes, golf clubs, and ropes used to strangle someone are all deadly or dangerous weapons.


Domestic Assault carries the same penalties as Simple Assault, whether classified as an A or B misdemeanor. There is no such thing in the statutes as a Domestic Aggravated Assault, but when a domestic assault rises to the statutory level described above, the defendant will likely be charged with Aggravated Assault. Nevertheless, "domestic" assaults, whether simple or aggravated, have additional ramifications.

Domestic Assaults carry the following potential punishment, according to T.C.A. § 39-13-111:

  • A first conviction for domestic assault is punished in the same way as simple assault, where a class A misdemeanor domestic assault is punished by up to eleven months and twenty-nine days and a B misdemeanor is punished by up to six months, with no mandatory jail time.
  • A second conviction for domestic assault is punishable by a fine of not less than three hundred fifty dollars nor more than three thousand five hundred dollars, and by confinement in the county jail or workhouse for not less than thirty consecutive days, nor more than eleven months and twenty-nine days.
  • A third or subsequent conviction for domestic assault is punishable by a fine of not less than one thousand one hundred dollars nor more than five thousand dollars, and by confinement in the county jail or workhouse for not less than ninety consecutive days, nor more than eleven months and twenty-nine days.
  • A person who is convicted of domestic assault shall not be subject to the enhanced penalties described above if ten (10) or more years have elapsed between the date of the present violation and the date of any immediately preceding domestic assault conviction.
  • A person convicted of domestic assault shall be required to serve at least the minimum sentence day for day and required to serve the difference between the time actually served and the maximum sentence on supervised probation.

Of great consequence is the recent addition to the statute of mandatory jail time and enhanced punishments for subsequent offenses, as well as the fact that regardless of the jail sentence, the balance of the term (e.g. 11 months 29 days) must be served on probation.


It is also of great importance to know that anyone convicted, having been charged with a domestic offense, will lose their right to carry, own, purchase, or transport firearms or ammunition. This becomes a heavy burden that affects defendants’ rights to hold a carry permit, own a collection of firearms, go hunting, or perform service in the military. It is ultimately crucial, especially for those employed in a capacity that requires the possession of a firearm (e.g. military, reserves, law enforcement, and security) that they consult with an experienced attorney.


In many cases, defendants should prepare to take their matter to trial, exhausting every pretrial option at their disposal. However, in the majority of cases involving domestic crimes, the state is willing to amicably settle, provided an appropriate agreement can be reached. Some cases which lack strength or merit may be dismissed outright, often without court costs being owed. Some cases with weaknesses, but some merit, may be set off for a period of time, after which it would be dismissed. Usually these dismissals are predicated on the defendant remaining out of trouble for a predetermined period of time, paying court costs, completing counseling, completing anger management classes, or some other requirement which both addresses the underlying issues and in some way punishes the defendant. With the right attorney, weaknesses can be found in many cases which allow the defendant to attempt to resolve their case amicably, without the risks involved in taking the matter to trial.

Another option often presented involves the defendant going on probation, by agreement, in what is called a Pre-trial Diversion or Judicial Diversion. These forms of suspended sentences require the defendant to have a clean history (i.e. be "diversion eligible") and obtain a certificate of diversion eligibility from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Attorneys familiar with these options know how to obtain the necessary documents and when it will be in the defendant’s best interests to enter such an agreement. The positive side of a diversion is that the charge(s) will be dismissed upon successful completion of probation, without a conviction ever entering. The downside is that in order to expunge a case dismissed after a diversion, you must pay an additional fee to the court on top of what probation fees and court costs you have already paid. Between the two, you would prefer to enter a Pre-trial Diversion, rather than a Judicial Diversion, which requires a conditional plea of guilty before going on probation. If probation is violated, those on a Pre-trial Diversion get slated back on the docket and are returned to square one, when the probation office files a Petition to Revoke a Suspended Sentence. However, if probation is violated on a Judicial Diversion, the probation office will file a Motion for Sentence. If the judge finds that the defendant violated the terms of probation, the conviction enters and the defendant will then be sentenced again.

While the options listed above are appealing and available in some cases, they may not be in others. It would do you well to hire an attorney who knows the difference. It may be, as it is in many cases, that the aforementioned resolutions are not options. Your attorney can still fight to resolve your matter with a suspended sentence (i.e. probation) or minimal jail time, perhaps even on weekends, if the case and defendant’s history warrant such and the State is unwilling to otherwise settle. However, in any case, if an amicable resolution may not be reached, be sure your attorney is competent and willing to take your case to trial so that such preparations may be made at every step of the way.


A conviction for domestic crimes becomes part of your criminal record and can be used to enhance penalties for subsequent crimes, potentially resulting in harsher penalties. In addition to the ramifications of the Lautenberg Amendment, if you become convicted of a felony you lose the right to vote, the right to possess a firearm, and can lose some professional licenses. Any criminal convictions, particularly domestic assault convictions, can affect your ability to obtain employment or even an apartment or rental home.

The experienced trial attorneys at Goble & Yow, PLLC, have handled hundreds of domestic cases and stand ready and willing to fight for you. They are knowledgeable and sincerely long to help you through your challenging situation. Contact us now for a free consultation and to find out about our available payment plans!

i Eric J. Yow is a licensed trial attorney in Clarksville, Montgomery County, Tennessee. All laws referred to herein are consistent with the laws of the state of Tennessee at the time of this writing and this article is not a substitute for competent legal counsel. The law’s application to you and your situation may be markedly different from the scenarios addressed herein and such are designed to be examples consistent with the experience of the author in his area of practice. Contact an attorney for legal advice.