This has been the legacy of the Tennessee laws regarding domestic violence. However, recent decades have witnessed a shift in public awareness accompanied by a greater sense of responsibility within the law to protect the women, men, and children who become the victims of abuse and a greater willingness of the courts to prosecute the offenders.
One of the key areas that Tennessee law has changed in recent years is the ability of the state to intervene in prosecution of domestic violence with or without the cooperation of the victim. According to the Knoxville Tennessee Bar Association, "unlike in the past when victims were required to swear out warrants, officers now are being trained to swear out all warrants involving domestic violence themselves" (How to Use the Law). If the offender is arrested, the level of the crime will depend upon the egregiousness of the act. In Tennessee most prosecutions for domestic violence are prosecuted as Class A misdemeanors that carry a sentence of not more than 1 year (How to Use the Law). In addition to the criminal sentence most offenders are also required to attend a domestic violence intervention program. The victim is also entitled to obtain a Civil Order of Protection that provides an additional layer of legal protection against domestic violence and threats.
The recent changes in Tennessee law that have broadened t...
While the change was necessary to prevent losing federal grants, defense lawyer Clay Whittaker "believes the fallout from the law change is that the people with orders of protection against them could end up bearing the burden of court costs in all instances, even if the plaintiffs' complaints eventually are found to have no merit" (Mercer). This is especially relevant due to other recent changes in Tennessee law that define "adults or minors who are dating or who have dated or who have or had sexual relationship" as eligible for domestic protection orders, which could open the doors for abuse of the existing laws in the form of revenge or overreaction (Bohn). These definitions are vague and can include many people who can be subjected to prosecution without any warning or committing any offensive activity.
One of the most significant, and widely praised, changes in Tennessee law has been in the provisions and penalties for spousal rape. US law has traditionally defined rape as "sexual intercourse with a female not his wife without her consent" (Spousal Rape Bill Back). In the last 30 years, states have moved to amend the law to repeal the spousal exclusion from the rape laws. In 1998, the Tennessee spousal exemption was changed to read that a spouse could be charged only if there was a weapon involved, there was serious bodily injury, or the couple was separated or divorced (Echegaray). In 2005, Tennessee amended its law again to eliminate the spousal exemption and "made the rape of a spouse as serious as the rape of a stranger" (Echegaray). This was a significant step in recognizing that domestic violence is a serious offense and a grave threat to public safety.