Cyntoia Brown is a young woman serving a life sentence in the Tennessee Prison for Women. Ms. Brown was a sixteen-year-old who had been forced into prostitution when she killed a man more than twice her age, a stranger who had picked her up for sex. She was tried and convicted as an adult. The jury did not know when they convicted her that Ms. Brown suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, which limited her executive brain function. Under Tennessee law, a child convicted as an adult is also sentenced as an adult. Thus, by operation of law, Ms. Brown must serve a minimum of 51 years in prison. Without intervention, she will likely spend the rest of her life in prison.

On January 18, 2018, the ACLU of Tennessee filed an amicus brief in favor of Ms. Brown in the Sixth Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, juveniles can only be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole if they are afforded certain protections, such as a sentencing hearing that specifically takes their background and youth into account.

The ACLU-TN brief argued that these protections must also apply in cases of de facto life sentences; meaning that when a juvenile like Ms. Brown is sentenced to a term of years so long that she has no meaningful opportunity of release, the Constitution requires the court to take her youth and background into account prior to sentencing.

The federal appeal is now pending.

ACLU Attorneys:

Thomas H. Castelli and Mandy Strickland Floyd of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee


Cyntoia Brown (Appellant)


Carolyn Jordan (Appellee)

Date filed

January 18, 2018


U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Judges Julia Smith Gibbons, Joan L. Larsen, and Amul Thapar


Judges Julia Smith Gibbons, Joan L. Larsen, and Amul Thapar



Case number

No. 16-6738