Tennessee’s Offenses Against Person: What Criminal Homicide Actually Means

In every day use, the word “homicide” gets swapped with the word “murder” pretty often. In Tennessee, though, those words have different meanings – and different penalties when someone is convicted of the crimes. Criminal homicide is the “unlawful killing of another person,” whether it was intentional or not. In other words, all murder is criminal homicide, but not all criminal homicide is murder.

What charges fall under criminal homicide in Tennessee?

There are eight (8) criminal homicide charges under Tennessee law, classified as Offenses Against Person. These are the categories:

  1. First degree murder. This is the intentional and premeditated killing of another human being. A person can be charged with first degree murder if he or she purposely kills another person, if the act is committed in the commission of another crime like robbery, theft or rape (among many others), or by “the unlawful throwing, placing or discharging of a destructive device or bomb.” It is a capital charge.
  2. Second degree murder. This is the “knowing” killing of another person (even if it wasn’t premeditated), and includes distribution of Schedule I or II drugs (which lead to the death of the user), or by engaging in multiple acts of physical violence, including domestic violence. It is a Class A felony.
  3. Voluntary manslaughter. Sometimes called crimes of passion, this charge means a person stands accused of intentionally or knowingly killing someone “in a state of passion produced by adequate provocation sufficient to lead a reasonable person to act in an irrational manner.” It is a Class C felony.
  4. Criminally negligent homicide. This charge indicates that the accused did something negligent, which in turn led to the death of another person. It is, in short, an unintentional killing. It’s a Class E felony.
  5. Vehicular homicide. This charge applies when someone uses a motorized vehicle to kill another person. It can be the result of drunk driving, or drag racing, or poor choices in a construction zone. If a person engages in “conduct creating a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to a person,” it’s a Class C felony. If a drunk driver kills another person, it’s a Class B felony.
  6. Reckless homicide. The official definition in the TN Code is “Reckless homicide is a reckless killing of another.” (“Reckless” means without thought to the consequences.) It is a Class D felony.
  7. Assisted suicide. Suicide is still against the law in Tennessee. Helping someone commit suicide – by participating in the act, failing to stop the act, or simply having knowledge that the act may occur – a person opens him or herself to charges. This is also a Class D felony.
  8. Aggravated vehicular homicide. This is vehicular suicide when the accused has either
    1. 2 prior convictions for DUI, vehicular assault, or a combination of both; or
    2. 1 prior conviction for DUI, vehicular assault or both, but also had a BAC level of .20 or more.

What are the penalties for a homicide conviction?

There is no one set penalty for conviction under a homicide charge, although all of them involve fines and prison time. If there are extenuating circumstances for the charges the accused faces, then the penalties and fines could increase. Generally speaking, however, here are the potential penalties per charge for felony convictions in the state:

  • Class A: between 15 and 60 years, and up to $50,000 in fines
  • Class B: between 8 and 30 years, and up to $25,000 in fines
  • Class C: between 3 and 15 years, and up to $10,000 in fines
  • Class D: between 2 and 12 years, and up to $5,000 in fines
  • Class E: between 1 and 6 years, and up to $3,000 in fines

Capital offenses, however, are different. If a person is convicted of first degree murder in Tennessee, there are three potential penalties:

  1. Life in prison, with parole possible after 85% of the sentence has been served
  2. Life in prison without the possibility of parole
  3. Death

A homicide charge, no matter which category it falls under, is incredibly serious. These are not the types of charges you want to face without legal counsel. You need a skilled attorney who has experience defending clients against homicide charges; it could literally be a life or death situation, if you don’t.

Frequently Asked Questions About Homicide in TennesseeFrequently Asked Questions About Homicide in Tennessee

Criminal homicide is a serious crime. If you are convicted, you’re going to go to prison. In Tennessee, there are various charges involving homicide that the accused may face, and some carry stricter penalties than others. We wanted to take a look at some of the more common questions we have heard regarding how Tennessee defines homicide, and how the State punishes those who are convicted of these charges.

Are all homicides murders?

No, they’re not. Homicide is simply defined as the unlawful killing of another individual. In order for a homicide to be classified as murder, there must have been an intent to kill – or, the reasonable assumption that a person’s actions could lead to the death of another human being.

There are various types of homicides, some of which overlap each other in terms of definition. These include murder, manslaughter, war killings, justifiable homicide, capital punishment, and euthanasia. Justifiable homicides, for example, are not classified as murder, even though they involve the taking of a life. Voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are also not considered murder, but various forms of homicide.

What is the difference between 1st and 2nd degree murder?

The most common divisions of the crime referred to as murder involve first-degree and second-degree murder. First-degree murder is the premeditated intentional killing of another person.

Second-degree murder is defined as the knowing killing of another person. This involves malice aforethought and intentionality, but not premeditation or planning that occurs in advance of the act. In Tennessee, second-degree murder may be charged if the death is associated with the possession, production, distribution, and/or use of controlled substances which led to, in whole or in part, the death of a user.

What is vehicular manslaughter under Tennessee Law?

Under Tennessee law, vehicular manslaughter involves the reckless taking of another person’s life using a motorized vehicle. This act is related to drag racing, drinking, drug use, or the conduct of a driver in a posted construction zone in which the individual killed is a highway construction worker or Department of Transportation employee.

Is killing in self-defense manslaughter under U.S. and Tennessee State Law?

When an individual exercises his or her right to self-defense or to the defense of another person, under U.S. and Tennessee state law, a noncriminal homicide ruling may apply. If a homicide is carried out in order to prevent a very serious crime such as murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, or rape, it may be considered justified.

Under Tennessee Code, Title 39, Chapter 11, Section 39-11-611, the use of deadly force is justified. The conditions upon which this force may be used include:

  • The individual has reason to believe an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury is present
  • The belief of this danger is based upon reasonable arguments
  • The danger is either real or honestly believed to be real at the moment in question

At Banks and Jones in Knoxville, we know what it takes to build a successful defense strategy for clients facing criminal homicide charges in Tennessee. When you need a fighter in your corner, we are here. Please call 865-546-2141, or complete our contact form to find out more. We will conduct in-custody visits and consultations.