By Jedediah McKeehan

Say that you are walking out to your car after a trip to the store and you see someone breaking in to your car, or maybe you’re walking down the street and someone runs by and snatches your purse.  What can you do to recover or protect your property in these instances?

Well, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-614 states that you are justified in threatening or using force against another to the degree necessary to prevent or terminate unlawful interference with the property.

BUT the law also says that, “a person is not justified in using deadly force to prevent or terminate the unlawful interference with personal property.”

So, what does that mean?  Essentially it means that you cannot pull a gun or another “deadly force” weapon on someone to protect property only.  Now, if you are in fear of safety to your own person or others, you are authorized to fire a weapon, or attack someone with a knife in order to protect yourself.  However, you cannot do these things to protect property only.

Why is this the case?  Is your car not worth protecting?  I presume that the law is this way because the legislators value life more than recovering stolen possessions.  Having said that, I don’t know how sympathetic cops will be to people who get injured committing crimes, but I can’t recommend opening fire when trying to recover stolen property.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.