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Understand the risk of the death penalty in Tennessee

Being accused of first-degree murder is serious and can put your life and freedoms at risk. Even though you've not yet been convicted, the likelihood is that you will be treated differently by your peers, colleagues and others. If you're taken into custody, you may lose your job or be unable to support yourself.

Tennessee is a dangerous state for murder convictions. It's one of few that still has capital punishment (the death penalty). Each trial is separated into two parts, with the first being used to determine if you are guilty and the second to decide on a punishment if you are found guilty.

Could you face the death penalty in Tennessee?

The death penalty can only be used in some circumstances. The laws require that maliciousness or a lack of remorse be present to hold someone responsible for murder with the use of capital punishment or life in prison without parole. Without an aggravating factor, it's highly unlikely that any judge would allow a person to face the death penalty. Additionally, any aggravating factor that allegedly is present must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Some of the possible aggravating factors that could lead to the death penalty include:

  • Heinous torture or mutilation
  • Hiring an assassin or paying money/receiving money for assassination
  • Preventing or attempting to interfere with a lawful arrest or prosecution
  • Murdering a former judge, attorney general, elected official or prosecutor because of their duties as officials
  • If the victim was under 12 or over 70, or if the victim was disabled

There are many other possible aggravating factors, too, so it's essential to make sure you know if your case will result in the death penalty. If it's a possibility, then your attorney may work to have the charges lowered or changed in a way that would prevent you from facing such as serious penalty.

Your attorney will try to present mitigating factors to the court, helping show that you don't deserve such a serious punishment. For example, you may be able to seek lower penalties if you:

  • Didn't have any criminal history
  • Believed you had a moral justification to kill the other person
  • Had to act under duress
  • Did not have the capacity to know that your actions would violate the law or be considered wrong

Your attorney can talk to you about these and other possible mitigating factors that could help you if you face a murder charge.

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