Cyntoia Brown – imprisoned for over a decade – has been granted clemency by Tennessee Governor, Bill Haslam. Brown’s sentence has sparked controversy by the public in the last few weeks of her appeal process and continues to headline social media.
At the age of sixteen, Brown was forced into a prostitution ring and placed on trial for the killing of Johnny Mitchell Allan. Allan was murdered by Brown after he had purchased her. Brown was convicted as an adult and given a life sentence of fifty years in prison, without parole until the age of sixty-seven.
Brown’s court hearing in 2004 weighed that Brown murdered Allan for robbery. While the defense weighed that Brown acted in self-defense.
“There had been a slow building groundswell of support for years,” said Prathim-Maya Dora-Laskey, Assistant Professor and Advisor to the MacCurdy Women’s House.
Over the past year, Brown’s case has gained traction through media outlets and the public demands to release Brown. The media attention ranged from celebrity tweets to a PBS documentary.
“Ultimately, both the constancy of local advocates and the volume of national and international support helped Cyntoia,” said Dora-Laskey.
Monday of last week, Brown was approved to be released from prison after serving fifteen years of a life sentence.
“Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Mrs. Brown’s sentence,” said Governor Haslam.
Attention to Brown’s case stems from a shift in the concerns of the public in recent years. The debate stems from whether or not the case was judged too harshly.
“I think that culture has changed. Our ability to accept these types of things have shifted in the majority of us. We’re more aware now of the impacts of trauma,” said Kevin Carmody, Title IX coordinator.
Carmody later explained that the popularity behind Brown’s case derives from a shift in the way society grows and perceives situations that otherwise would have been seen differently in the past five or ten years.
“Five years ago, this might not have reached the level of public outcry that we see today,” said Carmody.
The voice of the people generally moves at a pace that’s faster than the speed at which laws can be passed to improve convictions at the state level. “
Tremendous ground has been made by people who apply this pressure because otherwise, the system will never change,” said Carmody.
More importantly, it’s relevant to be aware that human rationality is applied to the existing legal system. In a positive light, cases like Brown’s will be corrected in future decisions, but the legal system will always have injustices.
No legal system in the United States or the world has ever been perfect, but pressure must be applied to improve the justice within the system.
“Legal systems are never flawless,” said Chih-Ping Chen, Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Women’s & Gender Studies.
“In Cyntoia Brown’s case, her age when she committed the crime, the nature of the crime, the situation she was in at that time and before that time, that she was tried as an adult, the years she has served, and the waiting time for her parole,” said Chen.