Emily's Law redux aims to punish 13-year-olds as adults

On a June morning in 2006, Lynn Johnson dropped off her two-year-old daughter, Emily, at her daycare provider's house before heading to work.

About eight hours later, Johnson got an alarming call from the daycare: Emily wouldn't wake up. Something was very wrong with her.

The next evening Emily died in the hospital.

Johnson later found out that the daycare provider's 13-year-old son had sexually assaulted Emily and thrown her into a wall, cutting off oxygen to the little girl's brain. Because he was only 13 -- just 19 days away from his 14th birthday, the age when a Minnesotan can be tried as an adult -- he was not prosecuted.

"The person who murdered our daughter is in high school, he's graduating in a few weeks," says Johnson. "That just shows you there really was no interruption to his life."

This tragic story has been told many times at the Minnesota Legislature. This year marks the fifth legislative session where a version of Emily's Law, which would lower the age of adult certification, has been introduced.

Earlier in the session, a bill aimed to lower the age in which a Minnesotan can be prosecuted as an adult from 14 years old to 10. A new version, passed by the House Judiciary Policy and Finance committee last week, would change the age to 13.

Friday could dictate whether or not this is the year Emily's Law moves forward. If it doesn't make it through the committee process by the end of the day, it will have to be couched until next time.

With a Republican-majority Legislature, Johnson admits she thought the bill would have progressed further by now.

"I thought the road would be a little easier this year," says Johnson. "We'll do this every year until they pass something."

But the bill certainly has its critics. Rep. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, worries about a bill forged out of such extreme emotion.

"My heart goes out to the family that unfortunately lost a child," says Champion. "I think that it's important for us to understand that we should never try to pass legislation or govern out of anger or some real deep emotional place."

Champion, who has worked with juvenile offenders as an attorney, also argues the bill is too harsh for kids as young as 13.

"The juvenile system really is about rehabilitation," he says. "How do we find a way to give the juveniles the tools they need so they can lead a life full of productivity and understanding, and sensitivity? And I just thought the bill was much too punitive."

Over the years, Johnson has dealt with many critics of Emily's Law, and has tried to make amendments to widen its appeal. The most recent version stipulate kids 13 and up could be certified as adults in the eyes of the court for violent offenses. If convicted, a 13-year-old would receive a juvenile sentence and a stayed adult sentence. The latter sentence would only go into effect if they commit another crime or violate the terms of the court-ordered agreement, and could not include prison time (though it could involve jail time).

If it doesn't pass this session, Johnson says she'll be back next time to testify again.

"I know that nothing will change in my case," says Johnson. "And I get sick of people thinking that I'm doing this out of vindication or out of revenge or out of emotion. Yeah, I'm emotional because in my case, in my daughter's case, there was no justice. I don't want another family to have to worry about that when they're burying their little boy or little girl."

Clarification: The newest version of Emily's Law wouldn't certify a 13-year-old as an adult. It would allow a 13-year-old to be prosecuted as an Extended Jurisdiction Juvenile, though this could entail a stayed adult sentence.

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