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Tennessee Capital Punishment Laws

Commonly referred to as the death penalty, capital punishment remains a legal sentence under Tennessee laws. The Volunteer State has had a long history with executions dating back to the 19th century, but had a 40-year hiatus from 1960 to 2000. Since then, Tennessee has only put six people to death.

Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1978, states are permitted to have their own capital punishment laws: while 18 states have banned capital punishment, it remains in place in 32 states. This is a brief summary of capital punishment laws in Tennessee.

Code Section

39-13-201, et seq.; 37-1-102; 40-23-114

Is Capital Punishment Allowed?


Effect of Defendant's Incapacity

Prohibited for mentally retarded

Minimum Age


Available for Crimes Other than Homicide?


Definition of Capital Homicide

Offender over 18, victim under 12; previous felony convictions; great risk of death to multiple persons other than victim; employed or done for remuneration; especially heinous, atrocious or cruel; avoiding lawful arrest of defendant or another; in connection with any first degree murder, arson, rape, robbery, burglary, theft, kidnapping, aircraft piracy, bombing; committed while in lawful custody/confinement or escape from; committed against law enforcement officer, corrections person, firefighter engaged in duties, also judge, attorney general, district attorney, etc. (and formers) due to performance of duties; against elected official; "mass" murderer; mutilation of victim's body; victim was 70 or older or victim was particularly vulnerable due to disability; committed in course of terrorism

Method of Execution

Lethal injection unless offense committed prior to January 1, 1999, then may elect for electrocution

The topic of capital punishment continues to divide Americans, just about evenly on both sides of the issue. Most national polls show close to a 50/50 split between those who prefer life imprisonment and those in favor of the death penalty. Recent history, however, has seen a steady decline in executions, which has coincided with a decrease in public support of the death penalty.

In 2014, 29 people were executed, most of which occurred in Florida, Missouri, and Texas. This is down from a post-1978 peak of 98 in 1999 and is part of a steady drop from 52 executions in 2009. Kansas and New Hampshire have not put any prisoners to death since capital punishment was reinstituted in 1978 while four states (Connecticut, New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) have only executed death row prisoners who have waived their appeals in that span.

Related Resources for Tennessee Capital Punishment Laws:

As noted above, state laws regarding the death penalty are subject to change. For additional information and resources on this topic, you can visit FindLaw’s Capital Punishment and the Death Penalty section. You can also contact a Tennessee criminal law attorney if you would like legal assistance with a death penalty matter.

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