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How Does Tennessee Define First Degree Murder?

If you are a Tennessee resident charged with first-degree murder, no one need tell you that you are in very serious trouble. As FindLaw explains, under Section 39-13-202 of the Tennessee Code, there are three kinds of deaths that are considered to be first-degree murder.

You could be charged with intentionally killing someone, having had the intent to do so beforehand, even if only very briefly. You could be charged with killing someone by exploding a bomb. Here the prosecutor must only prove that you intended to explode the bomb, not that you intended to kill someone by means of the explosion. Finally, you could be charged with killing someone while committing or attempting to commit a felony, such as rape, kidnapping, child abuse or neglect, robbery, arson, terrorism or piracy of an airplane.

Capital punishment

Tennessee is a capital punishment state, meaning that it has the death penalty. If you are charged with capital murder, your trial will consist of two parts. In the first, your innocence or guilt will be determined; in the second, you will be sentenced. Neither the death penalty nor life in prison without parole can be imposed on you unless there were one or more aggravating factors.

In the first phase, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt a number of things about you, the victim and the circumstances of the murder. In terms of you, the prosecutor must prove that at least one of the following aggravating factors existed:

  • You committed mass murder; i.e., you killed three or more people in the same incident or within a 48-month period.
  • You knowingly created a great risk of death not only for the victim but also for two or more additional people.
  • You have been convicted of one or more previous violent felonies.

In the sentencing phase, your attorney can submit relevant evidence that mitigating circumstances existed which could decrease your responsibility and therefore reduce your chances of receiving the death penalty. This information is only intended to educate and should not be interpreted as legal advice.