Brown v. Jordan

Cyntoia Brown was a sixteen-year-old with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder diagnosis when she was sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment for homicide. Although the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals held that she may be eligible for parole after serving 51 years pursuant to the Tennessee sentencing statute, a subsequent decision of the Tennessee Court of Appeals strongly calls into question whether she would ever be eligible for parole.

Juvenile Law Center along with other advocacy organizations filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in support of Ms. Brown. Our brief argues that mandatory life sentences are disproportionate and therefore unconstitutional when imposed on children, that parole eligibility even after 51 years of incarceration is effectively a life without parole sentence, and that such a sentence fails to serve accepted penological goals of deterrence, retribution or rehabilitation.

The Sixth Circuit stayed Ms. Brown’s appeal pending the Tennessee Supreme Court’s response to the following certified question of law:  “Will a defendant convicted of first-degree murder committed on or after July 1, 1995, and sentenced to life in prison under Tennessee Code Annotated [section] 39-13-202(c)(3) become eligible for release and, if so, after how many years?” The Tennessee Supreme Court accepted certification of the question of law and held that a defendant convicted and sentenced to life in prison under the statute would become eligible to request parole after fifty-one years of imprisonment.
Ms. Brown petitioned Tennessee Governor, Bill Haslam, for clemency. Juvenile Law Center along with 14 other advocacy organizations submitted a letter in support urging the Governor to grant Ms. Brown’s clemency request. On January 7, 2019, Governor Haslam granted Ms. Brown’s clemency request.