A breakdown of what Cyntoia Brown’s clemency means.
Cyntoia Brown, the Nashville woman who was imprisoned at the age of 16 for killing a child predator who paid her for sex, has been granted executive clemency by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam before he leaves office.
Brown is set to be released from prison on August 7, 2019, after serving 15 years of her original life sentence. Although a 2011 documentary first shed light on Brown’s case, it wasn’t until celebrities like Kim Kardashian-West and Rihanna shared her story on social media that it became mainstream, support for the now 29-year-old Brown embodied in hashtags like #FreeCyntoiaBrown and #Clemency4Cyntoia.
But what exactly does clemency mean? How did Haslam’s decision ensure that Brown no longer has to serve 51 years in prison before she was eligible for parole?
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) January 7, 2019
Executive clemency is defined by Tennessee’s Board of Parole as “the act of mercy or leniency providing relief from certain consequence of a criminal conviction.” There are several forms of clemency: a reprieve, a commutation, a pardon, and an exoneration.
Reprieve: Request to delay the impending punishment or sentence.
Commutation: Substitution of a lesser sentence for a greater sentence.
Pardon: Statement of forgiveness. Does not delete conviction from record.
Exoneration: Declaration of Innocence that requires written legal documentation. Conviction is deleted from record.
Under these four, Brown’s clemency comes in the form of the second one — commutation. Brown was tried as an adult at 16 and convicted by a jury in 2006 of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery. She was sentenced to life in prison and would not have been eligible for parole until 2055. Now, she’ll be released August 7; following that, she will be under supervised parole for 10 more years.
The reason as to why she’s being released in August because she has to participate in “assigned transition and re-entry programming” as a part of her parole requirements.
Although some would argue that Brown deserved to be pardoned, Haslam’s decision seems to try and please both sides of the case — Brown’s supporters who believe she acted in self-defense in killing the man who paid her for sex and those who believe the murder was unjustified.
Brown will still have the first-degree murder and aggravated robbery convictions on her record. As a convicted felon Brown will have limitations on her freedoms. Consequences of a felony conviction are often similar across the United States but since Brown is in Tennessee let’s focus on how they handle convicted felons. Under Tennessee law, Brown is affected through four categories: employment, firearms, voting, and registration.
Employment: Tennessee law allows employers to exclude convicted felons from employment in certain professions. These professions are typically those that require the employee to hold a certain license. Felons can have their license applications denied and can have previously obtained licenses revoked due to the conviction. Felons are barred from work as: 911 operators or dispatchers; sheriff office employees or police officers; private investigators; real estate agents; bail bondsmen; certified public accountants; nurses; and general contractors.
Firearms: Tennessee law prohibits those convicted of felony violent crimes or drug offenses from possessing a firearm while serving a sentence. Those who were convicted of committing a felony between 1986 and 1996 and were not sentenced to imprisonment may have their right to possess a firearm restored automatically after completion of their sentence. However, those who were imprisoned, as well as those convicted of felonies before or after those dates, must apply for restoration of their rights through the state’s court system. Persons convicted of violent crimes may never regain the right to possess a gun. Furthermore, federal laws may prohibit those convicted of felonies from obtaining the right to possess a gun. A person who violates this law can receive another felony conviction.
Voting: Tennessee law prohibits those convicted of felony crimes from voting within the state. This prohibition applies until the felon has completed his sentence, including any term of imprisonment, parole or probation. A convicted felon can have her right to vote restored once she has completed her sentence and paid all fines, court-ordered restitution and court costs. The felon must also be current on any court-ordered child support, if applicable. However, certain felons may not have their right to vote in Tennessee restored. These include those convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated rape, treason or voter fraud between July 1, 1996 and June 30, 2006.
Registration: Tennessee law requires those convicted of certain crimes to register on the Tennessee Sexual Offender Registry. Crimes that require registration include sexual battery, false imprisonment of a minor and solicitation. Furthermore, the law requires those convicted of certain crimes to register as a violent sexual offender. These crimes include aggravated rape, spousal rape, solicitation of a minor and attempted rape. Those who must register are also required to give DNA samples and report any changes in their home or work address to the police. Individuals who commit sex crimes against minors are also forbidden from living or working within 1,000 feet of places children frequent, including parks, schools and day care centers.
The most notable of these as it pertains to Brown is voting. Even though she was convicted of first-degree murder, her conviction is out of the timeline between July 1, 1996, and June 30, 2006 (she was convicted in August 2006). This means that Brown should have her voting rights restored once she carries out her parole. Under her parole, she’s required to not violate any state or federal laws, as well as adhere to “special supervision conditions, including employment, education, counseling, and community engagement requirements,” according to Haslam’s commutation statement.
Brown has been granted clemency but it’s important to understand what that means. There’s still more work to be done but at the very least Brown will be able to enjoy some freedom beginning in August this year.