On the first day on the job as a newly minted state representative — the youngest woman now serving in the Tennessee legislature — Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, filed her first bill inspired by a woman who has spent nearly half her life in prison.
Lamar’s bill would change how minors are treated in some criminal cases if they are a victim of sex trafficking or prostitution.
The proposal would change state law so that an underage person who is the victim of a sex offense or found to be in prostitution is presumed to be acting in self-defense if he or she uses force intended to cause serious injury or death.
The bill, a Senate version of which is being sponsored by Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, stems from the case of Cyntoia Brown, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 for killing a stranger who picked her up at an East Nashville fast food restaurant then took her to his home.
Last week, outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam granted clemency to Brown, clearing the way for her release from prison in August.
Lamar said she found Brown’s case “uniquely tragic” as she learned about the circumstances in which Brown found herself.
Brown and her attorneys said she was a victim of sex trafficking who felt her life was in danger when she fatally shot 43-year-old Johnny Allen, a Nashville real estate agent, after he took her home from a Sonic restaurant.
Brown is now 30 and will be 31 when she is released.
Lamar, 28 herself, is close in age to Brown.
“When I got elected and I read the story, I said I can’t be silent about this,” Lamar said. “I’m the youngest female in the legislature.
“I felt like it was my obligation to say something. It was my obligation as a young woman. As a youth advocate. As someone who truly believes in second chances.”
Lamar filed her bill on the first day of her first legislative session on Jan. 8 — the day after Haslam announced he would grant Brown clemency.
While protections are in place to prevent juveniles from being charged with prostitution, Lamar said there is nothing to keep them from facing serious, life-altering criminal charges for any act of violence they’re forced to commit against a perpetrator in such a situation.
Lamar said Brown’s case “brings to light the loophole regarding how we are protecting kids” in sex trafficking.