Cyntoia Brown was 16 years old when she shot the man that got her into sex trafficking, Johnny Allen. After her trial in 2006, Brown was sentenced to 51 years to life in prison for first degree murder, felony murder and aggravated robbery.
While serving time in “Tennessee Prison for Women”, located in Nashville, Tennessee, Brown was able to work towards finishing up school. She finished high school, received her associates degree and was working towards receiving her bachelor’s degree in May 2019.
During late 2017, Brown’s case became viral among social media platforms. According to Billboard, reality TV star Kim Kardashian even enlisted her own legal team to help Cyntoia Brown.
“We see social media intervention all the time, and this case was no different,” senior John Burzawa said. “I think when the case got out there and people were exposed to the fact that this woman had gone through so much, and still managed to obtain a college degree, the social pressure to grant clemency was more than relevant. “
After receiving so much attention, Cyntoia Brown was granted clemency after her fifteenth year in prison. According to American Law teacher Zachary Crandall, when clemency is granted, people’s term in prison gets reevaluated and potentially get reduced.
“The judiciary can convict someone of a crime. A check on that conviction is the executive power whether it be the governor or the president to reduce or eliminate that conviction,” Crandall said. “Basically it’s to help make sure there’s no wrongful conviction or abusive power.”
The main purpose of checks and balances is to divide the power between the branches of government, therefore the executive, judicial and legislative can’t subjugate one another.
“Usually the governor or the president will have an office set up for this through their legal or justice department,” Crandall said . “Generally they will have lawyers looking to see if they’re valid claims.”
Many activist on social media were outraged when hearing about Brown’s original sentence. They believed Brown was simply trying to protect herself after being sold for sex.
“The media shined light on the fact that she did it in self defense, leading to public outcry about the unfairness of the case,” freshman Reilly Allen said.
Many people online have come to question the justice system. Like twitter user @BlanchSyd when she tweeted, “Still kind of amazed that they would try a 16 year old as an adult and make her serve 15 years in prison when she was a victim of sex slavery and used self defense to leave her situation but hey I guess that’s just who we are as a country.”
Additionally the #MeToo movement has shed more light specifically on victims of harassment and sexual assault. The media undoubtedly played a role in Brown’s case.
“In a day and age where sex trafficking and sexual harassment is such a big deal, it is no wonder the media picked up on her case. Without the media, Cyntoia [could’ve] been behind bars for a very long time, “ Allen said.
Cases like this may cause some to call into question the validity and dependability of our justice system in general. Some may wonder how cases like Brown’s even occur in the first place.
“It is important to make sure we don’t miss anything after a decision has been made, this case is an excellent example of that,” Burzawa said. “But I think it would be most effective to just stop this from happening in the first place by really getting the details and decisions right during original jurisdiction and subsequent appeal process.”