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Updated ‘Emily’s Law’

Published (4/29/2011)
By Mike Cook
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A 13-year-old who commits a felony-level violent juvenile offense might be prosecuted as an extended jurisdiction juvenile, but not certified as an adult.

Through EJJ, an offender is sentenced as both a juvenile and an adult. If the offender violates terms of the juvenile disposition or commits a new offense, the stayed adult sentence may be executed. Under current law, the minimum age is 14.

Under the bill, a 13-year-old who has the adult sentence executed may be held in a county jail, but not at a state correctional facility for adults.

A “violent juvenile offense” is defined in the bill as first- through third-degree murder, first- and second-degree manslaughter, first- through fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and malicious punishment of a child.

Sponsored by Rep. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), HF1428 was approved April 26 by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee on a split-voice vote, and sent to the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. A companion, SF1218, sponsored by Sen. Gretchen Hoffman (R-Vergas), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

“The proposed legislative change certainly would be appropriate in those most serious cases involving a 13-year-old offender,” Assistant Otter Tail County Attorney Michelle Eldien wrote in a letter to the committee. “The current law limits jurisdiction of 13-year-old offenders until the age of 19. Extended juvenile jurisdiction of the juvenile in this situation would allow for supervision until 21 years of age.”

This is Westrom’s second “Emily’s Law” bill this session. His first, HF306, would have lowered the EJJ or option to certify a juvenile as an adult to age 10. That bill was heard Feb. 10 by the public safety committee, but no action was taken.

The impetus for Westrom’s bills is the case of 2-year-old Emily Johnson, who, in June 2006, was sexually assaulted and violently thrown against a wall by the 13-year-old son of her day care provider. Emily was taken off life support the next day. Because the offender was 19 days shy of his 14th birthday, he could not be tried as an adult.

Opponent’s arguments include that the bill could institute cruel and unusual punishment, it would disproportionately affect minorities and that youthful offenders are less able to comprehend the long-term consequences of their actions.

The bill also restricts a court’s ability to expunge a juvenile record if a child is adjudicated delinquent for a violent juvenile offense. A court may now expunge a juvenile record at any time, unless the juvenile is transferred to the Department of Corrections’ custody.

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