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Human trafficking bill inspired by Cyntoia Brown clears House

By Sam Stockard Updated: March 03, 2020 3:30 PM CT | Published: March 03, 2020 1:47 PM CT

Responding to circumstances affecting Cyntoia Brown, the House has passed legislation by state Rep. London Lamar of Memphis enabling human trafficking to be used as a self-defense in criminal cases.

“This is not a get-out-of-jail free card, it’s an opportunity for human trafficking victims to take their claim into court,” said Lamar, a Memphis Democrat, shortly before the House passed her first bill unanimously on the House floor Monday, March 2.

House Bill 1650 allows human trafficking victims who are in a place they don’t have a right to be or are engaged in criminal activity to claim self-defense in court testimony. Affidavits will not be allowed.

Lamar sponsored the legislation, which still must pass the Senate, in reaction to the case of Brown, who was convicted of killing 43-year-old Johnny Mitchell Allen when she was a 16-year-old prostitute and sentenced to 51 years in prison.

Prosecutors portrayed Brown as a thief who was trying to rob her victim and shot him in the head after he picked her up at a Nashville Sonic. Brown’s defenders argued she was pushed into a life of prostitution and abused by her boyfriend pimp before she committed the crime, thinking Allen was going to kill her.

At 16, Cyntoia Brown-Long was arrested for robbing and killing a man she says picked her up for sex. She would be sentenced to prison, but at age 31 walked out of a Tennessee prison after successfully petitioning the governor for clemency.

Former Gov. Bill Haslam pardoned Brown in January 2019 after the Tennessee Parole Board voted 2-2 against releasing her. She had served 13 years.

Numerous national celebrities came to Brown’s defense after finding out she might have to spend the rest of her life in prison for a crime she committed as a teen prostitute. She earned a degree at Lipscomb University and counseled other women in prison into her late 20s before being released.

Lamar’s legislation passed with an amendment requiring defendants such as Brown to testify about their status as a human trafficking victim.

Pregnant students get a break

Lamar passed her second bill, HB379, Monday evening, enabling students who become pregnant to keep their HOPE Scholarship funds.

Receiving a unanimous vote in the House after rolling through the Senate with a 31-0 vote, the bill would make pregnancy an approved case for a medical leave of absence for scholarship recipients.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation did not take a position on the bill after opposing it in 2019.

Carried by Memphis Democratic state Sen. Raumesh Akbari in the Senate, the bill would allow students to take up to 16 months to have a baby, start raising the child and then use their scholarship money.

The next step is for Gov. Bill Lee to sign the bill.

Rape as a self-defense

Earlier Monday, the House passed legislation by Republican state Rep. Brandon Ogles of Franklin adding imminent danger of serious sexual abuse as a justification for the use of deadly in cases of self-defense and incidents involving law enforcement officers. Serious sexual abuse involves rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child or aggravated rape of a child.

In addition, the House voted unanimously to designate Aug. 8 each year as Emancipation Day, recognizing the day slaves were freed.


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