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Tennessee Second-Degree Murder

Second-degree murder in Tennessee is the middle ground homicide, below first-degree murder (an intentional and considered beforehand murder), but more serious than voluntary manslaughter (murder committed in the "heat of passion"). If the criteria necessary for second-degree murder aren't met, the defendant could still be found guilty of a lesser murder charge such as voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, or criminally negligent homicide.

Penalties and Sentences

Second-degree murder is not eligible for the death penalty, as first-degree murder is in Tennessee. However, it is a Class A felony, which is the highest level for felonies in Tennessee. As felonies have a significant range for sentencing purposes, the circumstances of the crime can greatly affect the amount of prison time a defendant receives for the same offense. Additionally, there is no statute of limitations for the prosecution of second-degree murder.

Tennessee Second Degree Murder Law: Statute

The main provisions of Tennessee's second-degree murder law are outlined below.

Code Sections

Tennessee Code Section 39-13-210: Second Degree Murder

What Is Prohibited?

Tennessee law defines second-degree murder as one of two types of killings:

  • A knowing killing of another
  • A killing of another caused by the unlawful sale of drugs

Tennessee specifically states that when a defendant commits multiple incidents of domestic assault, physically injuring a single victim, then the jury or judge can infer that the defendant was aware the conduct was reasonably certain to kill the victim, even if none of the incidents alone would have resulted in death.


Second-degree murder in Tennessee is a Class A felony punishable by 15-60 years in prison and a fine not more than $50,000.


The best defense for a second-degree murder case will vary depending on the circumstances. Some defenses to a murder charge are complete, so that the person will be found not guilty if believed by the judge or jury. These complete defenses include innocence and, sometimes, insanity. Other defenses are partial, so they only reduce the offense to a lower form of homicide, such as self-defense or intoxication.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Research the Law

Tennessee Second Degree Murder Law: Related Resources

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