Should more juveniles be charged as adults?


A Minnesota House committee approved “Emily’s Law” this afternoon (HF699). Filed by Rep. Bud Nornes and Rep. Torrey Westrom, it’s nicknamed after 2-year-old Emily Johnson of Fergus Falls, who died a day after she was sexually assaulted and then thrown against a wall by the 13-year-old son of the daycare provider.

Currently in Minnesota, persons as young as 14 can be charged as adults.

“Why is our daughter laying in the ground and this person is in a group home?” asked Lynn Johnson at the House Public Safety and Civil Justice Committee hearing this afternoon, shortly before the committee approved the bill on a 12-to-6 vote. She said the young man charged with manslaughter in the case, was just 19 days from his 14th birthday.

“In Kansas and Vermont, it’s 10. In Missouri and Colorado, it’s 12,” said her husband, Travis, who rattled off a list of states with ages for being tried as an adult younger than Minnesota’s requirement.

He disputed opponents of the bill, who said 13 year olds may not know the difference between right and wrong. “Why must the brain be fully developed before one is held accountable for his actions?” Travis Johnson said.

Doug Johnson, the Washington County Attorney, testified against the bill, saying if children were tried as adults, they could be released sooner than if they entered the juvenile justice system. He said the boy who assaulted the Johnson’s toddler, “would be out of the system before he was 18” had he been tried as an adult.

“If you send a kid to prison as an adult, you’re going to get nothing when he comes out other than a future criminal,” he said.

Another opponent said juveniles in prison as adults are eight times more likely to be sexually assaulted as adults and are more likely to commit suicide.

A psychologist, Sue Foss, testified that until age 15, adolescents are “not able to pick up cues” that adults are, saying an adolescent is more likely to consider a crying child to be deliberately trying to annoy. “Thirteen year olds don’t have the capacity of adults or modify their behavior to avoid future negative consequences,” she said, adding that that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions.

According to state public defender John Stuart, there are no 14 or 15 year olds currently in state prison.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom,DFL-Brooklyn Center, who served on a sexual offender task force, said “the goal for me at the end of the incarceration period is to make sure there isn’t one more victim. Less than 25 percent of the people who are incarcerated as an adult get sex offender treatment even if they’re ordered to by the court.”

Hilstrom said she didn’t get the information she needed to make sure that “these parents get what they’re asking for.”

  • Ginny

    Children’s brains are not fully developed until they are in their mid-20s, especially the part of the brain where mental activities like making decisions reside. (Which is why teenagers should not smoke, drink, or have unprotected sex: they have no idea what they’re doing.)

    Children, especially, are redeemable and should be given every chance (and help) to grow up and change their ways. Emotions and grief should not trump reality and real justice.

  • Eryc Leaf

    The bizarre quote from the victim’s father (about why the brain must be fully developed to hold a child responsible for their actions) highlights a common problem in crime reporting. The parents of a homicide victim do not suddenly become experts on criminal behavior. They are distraught and they are angry and they are prone to saying irrational things. They should be comforted and allowed to mourn, but they are not in a position to make sound policy. Angry people rarely are.

    The same is true of the families of accused criminals. The parents of a killer will always insist on their child’s innocence. There is no news in quoting people in shock and mourning. The decent thing would be to leave them alone unless there is a compelling reason to quote them.

    We have a juvenile justice system because children are not little adults. Thirteen year olds (nor fourteen year olds for that matter) do not think like rational adults. The severity of the crime does not change that. It is also coming to light that as many as half of all violent children suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome which impedes the brain’s ability to feel empathy.

    The solution is not to imprison child offenders nor is it to ignore their crimes and hope it doesn’t happen again. Unfortunately, the real solution is complicated and expensive and doesn’t make good sound bites.

    Juvenile justice requires the adults to make the hard and unsatisfying decisions. Group home treatment for Emily’s killer may seems like no justice, but sending a child to Stillwater for 40 years is no justice either.

  • Very well said, Eryc.

    We don’t ask victims of car accidents to redesign cars. Why? The desire to prevent their own pain would push them toward designing tanks that encase the driver in foam.

    We can get testimony from victims of violent crime and their loved ones, but there is an all-too-human tendency for leaders to show sympathy through legislation.

    I’m sure there are cases where this approach works, but I would guess, like Eryc said, that most of this testimony is not about the merits of a potential law, but rather about mourning and grief.

    Unfortunately, it looks callous to be thoughtful and logical when a parent is crying about their murdered child. I don’t envy the legislators’ role in that scenario, but I do expect them to be able to formulate rational explanations for laws beyond placating a bereft citizen.

  • c

    I do not know what it is like being 13 and a boy in puberty, perhaps, but I am sure there is more behind this story than “a 13 year old sexually assulted a 2 year old little girl”. I am not making excuses for the boy but trying to understand what happened. Who knows what was going on with him and his family life and upbringing. I am sure the child psychologist is/was looking into it. This child needs healing and direction and some consequences but not detention in a state facility with adult criminals who were mentally fully developed when they commited their crimes.

  • Bob Collins

    The boy is in a group home and would be unaffected by this legislation. He’s already been sentenced.

  • bsimon

    Trying kids as adults will do nothing to prevent future crime by juveniles. The problem isn’t that kids aren’t treated like adults, the problem is that these kids behave inappropriately in the first place. That is the problem that needs to be solved, rather than increasing the punishment for undesireable actions. I can’t imagine that the 13yr old in question considered potential punishments for his actions before assaulting the toddler. If changing the law doesn’t change the frequency or likelihood of such criminal behavior, what’s the point?

  • kwana

    i think that this young boy is responsible for his actions because he may not know that consequenses of his actions but he knows what he does is wrong at this age!!!!!

  • GopherMPH

    Society seems to struggle with age limit in a sporadic, useless manner. So, let’s see:

    14 – old enough to be considered capable of understanding the consequences of their actions and then going to jail

    16 – old enough to be considered capable of understanding the consequences of their actions and then having sex

    18 – old enough to be considered capable of understanding the consequences of their actions and then doing just about anything

    21 – old enough to be considered capable of understanding the consequences of their actions and then consuming alcohol.

    How old is “old enough”? How can anyone possibly imagine a 14 year old is really capable of understanding what he’s doing, and the real consequences of his actions …. but turn around and tell a 19 year old Army soldier that she can’t drink a beer because she don’t understand what she’s doing??

    We think a 15 year old is too *young* to realize the consequences of consentual sex, but *is* old enough to realizing the consequences of sexually assaulting someone? Either they get it or they don’t. Society can’t have it both ways.

  • nope dont think they should they should learn there lession with like house arrest or lock up bc thats wat i had to do and im only 15

  • Sheebie

    I believe that they charge any teenager over the age of 18 as an adult they arent capable of living in prison and living under those harsh standards with all the big time peoplel. like the drug dealers and the big time killers. they arent that big of criminals….

  • BAnks

    i think that young teens, do know wath they are doing! it’s just that they are to imature to look beyond.. and see the consequences!.. teens do things before they actually think!

    They ACT before they thinK!!!

  • K

    This little boy is responsible for his actions….he knows what he was doing…theres no excuse for what he done…emily was just a baby…how could u not know that what you were doing was wrong…i mean come on now!!! she was just a baby for gods sake!!!! TO EMILYS PARENTS,IM VERY SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS OF YOUR BABY GIRL,I AM ON YOUR SIDE 100 PERCENT OF THE WAY….SHE WAS VERY BEAUTIFUL….

  • Jessica

    Lower the age!!!! If you dont know right from wrong at age 13 you should not be allowed alone with anyone. That is a sick sick thing to do. Maybe the parents need to be investigated. Sick, it makes me SICK!!!

  • james

    Im pretty sure the kid knew what he was doing, but morally he may have been influenced by who knows what factors in his life. Anyways when i was 13 i dont think i would have sexually assaulted a baby and threw her against a wall though. I mean common having good morals is just something we naturally have. but to have some kid at this age do something this serious, there must be something wrong with him though. i hope he gets what he needs help with but sometimes i just feel like kids are begging to use their age as an excuse to commit more and more serious crimes. But at the same time it is very true that they do not fully comprehend the fact that their consequences could severly effect their future, they know the consequences but not how it might affect them in the future. i just hope things will work out for the parents who lost their child. why the heck is a 13 year old kid watching a baby anyways, its the parents fault in the first place…

  • katie

    10 and up the pre-teens know what they are doing, they might not realize the conciquences but they really know what they are doing, im 14 and i know whats right and wrong, its not that hard to justify weather you want to execpt that or not!

  • kassee :]

    yes, that boy should be locked up.

    100% sure.

  • Chelsea Dewberry

    The problem is not that young teens dont understand the consequences of there actions. The problem is they dont really what good opportunities for life they waiting. They have only known were they live and leaving seems so distant to them. Therefor they figure there is nothing better in life so what if I get in trouble. So what if I go to jail. Once these kids hit close to eighteen, everything changes because now they have the right to leave. They have the right to change how they are living and make a better life for themselfs. Locking these young children up will just cause them to die in the system from suicide or when they do get out, there hearts will be cold and they will be unpreductive in society. Punishment is an MUST, but adult prison is way way too much. God Bless.

  • rumor

    kids know right from wrong. they don’t understand the consequences of them. but I certainly love the fact that kids can reap the punishment of crimes as an adult and not reap the benefits of what “adults” have. You know smoke, drive, drink, sex, die for your country. NO wonder kids today are so messed up! There is’nt a set consequence for what is right or wrong in any state. I also love the fact that its always the parents to blame, when most kids are in the presence of the PUBLIC SCHOOL system for 8 hours, 5 times a week. Looks like they spend more time there!! Its really sad what happened to that BB girl! Its just gonna keep on gettn worse, sick but true!

  • Ann


  • Erick

    Yes, children should have to face the same law as adults. It is unfair to the victims and their loved ones. The law should serve the victims too.

  • Ray

    yes, i do belive children should be tried as adults to a certain extent. It’s proven that many of the children who murder or sexually offend have physcological issues. Putting these children back out into the world after some therapy and a slap on the wrist won’t fix this problem. It’s more of an innitiative for them to commit a crinme again because they know they wil get little puishment for what they have done… Just keep in mind what you would want if emily was your child… would you want her murderer back out on the streets?

  • Nikki T.

    okay so um.. i think it is completly wrong what he did bc i have been sexually assulted. I think the courts right for locking him up. It is not right for guys/girls to go around doin this to anyone. I am 17 years old and this was a huge eye opener for me. Im not gonna say its the parents fault cause if they new that this was gonna happen i bet that guy would not have been there. But then again it is the parents fault for letting that guy around there baby!!!! so im siding with both but more with the parents. IM VERRRRRY SORRY ABOUT YOUR DAUGHTER SHE WAS VERY BEAUTIFUL!!! i wish you guys the best of luck in the future and hope you can over come this horrible path you guys are on….YOU GUYS ARE IN MY PRAYERS

  • sama

    I i think chlidren have to learn the responiblty of their actions .when i was 13 i knew whats right from wrong .

  • courtney dorsey

    I believe that this so called 13 yr old son, “monster” should be locked up and sentenced as an adult. I dont care that hes 13 what he did was completelt cruel and sick. As far as im concerned he should be setenced to death.

  • Melissa

    Are you people serisously saying this? Are you not reading the same article that I am reading? How can you say that this boy should not be tried as an adult? Have you seen what he has done? He not only sexually assaulted a two year old baby girl, but he killed her. Don’t you say that he doesn’t know what he is doing because that is not true. He knew perfectly well what he was doing. If he thought that he was old enough to get sexually pleasured then he is old enough to face his consequences. Yes, people deserve second chances, but he should still be punished for what he did. I’m pretty sure that a slap in the hand, will not stop him from possibly doing it again. He needs to learn the hard way.He needs to earn that second chance. His sentence in prison in nothing compared to the life sentence put on this girl’s parents, their baby’s death. They will never be able to get her back. PUNISH HIM.

  • Dr. Roman p.h.d. child tendencies

    any child who kills should spend his life with other killers. personally i would not want a convicted killer of any age around my loved ones. a child who reaps no consequences for his/her actions does not learn a lesson and therefor is more likely to do it again. you must understand that children try to get away with things so if a child gets away with sneaking a cookie before dinner even though he/she was taught it was wrong WILL do it again only because they got away with it the first time and chances are they wont stop until they get caught.. most likely by the time they do get caught they’ll be taking 5 or 6 cookies so apply that to a child who murders with no punishment

  • Harley Felton

    I feel that this 13 year old monster should be locked up for his crimes. I mean come on now, you got 20 year old molesting kids and they get all kinds of punishments for their crimes but a 13 year old gets a slap on the wrist??? Thats just bull and ya’ll know it. I’m a high school student and when I was 10 knew wat was rite and wrong. If the kid is old enough to get sexual pleasure, then the little monster is old enough to do his time for his actions. If it was ur daughter that was 2 and sexually assaulted and killed by a 13 year old punk, would you want them to just get a slap on the wrist??? hell no you wouldnt. you would want him punished for his crimes. any sane person would. and anyone who sticks up for this kids crime should stop and think about wat they would want and do if it was their child. PUNISH HIM HE DESERVES IT FOR HIS CRIME.

  • claire


  • claire


  • Alex

    I am strongly opposed to minors being charged as adults in criminal court. I am 14 currently and have very few rights. I cant drive, have sex, vote, drink, smoke, get a job, own/purchase/carry a firearm ect… Hell, I cant even move about freely without my parent’s permission. Why? because I’m supposedly not responsible enough. However, I according to the government, I’m totally responsible for my own actions and can be treated as if I am as responsible as an adult. This is simply unacceptable. Yes, most minors know what they are doing is wrong and I should not be simply slapped on the wrist. But a minor should definitely not be treated as a fully matured adult who can do pretty much whatever they want. Remember the phrase, “With rights come responsibilities.”? If you reverse it you get. “With responsibility comes rights.” So according to the government, I am just as responsible as an adult, but I don’t get the rights of one. EITHER GIVE ME MY RIGHTS OR TAKE AWAY MY RESPONSIBILITIES!!! It’s unfair to have one and not the other!

  • Alex

    @ann You seem to forget that torture is forbidden by the constitution.

  • Alex

    @Eryc Leaf (Agreed)

  • drea

    well. i think that children shouldnt be charged as an adult over an mistake that they have made. They future are on the line and know one wants to live they life in jail or prison because of them making the wrong decision……..!!!!!so i strongly disagree with everyone that says children should be charged as an adult..put yourself in they should…could you do the time? how would you make? and could you handle it?

  • Arianna Perez

    I think this kid should be charged with adult charges he had no right to rape and kill this poor innocent 2 year old girl for what?Pleasure? she didnt even get to HAVE a life because he took it from he but honestly this is no joke but when i was like 8 i knew right from wrong and when im hurting a person and if he was in his right mind he would have knew he was hurting her to get pleasure for himself. I think that he kept doing it because he knew he was a kid and probaly can get away with it. Wrong people need to learn from there mistakes or in the furture they will do it again…

  • nana

    he should not be charged as an adult

  • Adf

    I completely agree with you Arianna. I did a lot of research about this topic for my freshmen college writing class, and one of the cases I looked at was one similar to this. I also agree that this child should be tried as an adult. Child is the wrong word here, he’s a teenager! You can’t tell me at that at this age that you don’t know right and wrong. I think that is a poor excuse to say why juveniles should or should not be tried as an adult. In my opinion, there are children that have a chance at being rehabilitated, and the rest are just plain evil— there’s nothing anyone can ever do for them. Personally, I think if you kill someone, you have every intention of doing so. I don’t think murdering someone is ever unintentional. There’s not a doubt in my mind that this boy knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he did it. Although he is 13, since he is now considered a murderer, he should be put with the rest of the murderers out there.

  • Dawn

    I am majoring in Criminal Justice and am currently writing an Essay on “Why 14 yr olds should be tried as an adult.” There is no way that I am going to believe that a 14 yr old kid does not know from right and wrong. Think back when you were that age. Saying that a child’s brain isn’t fully developed is insane. What if something happened to someone you loved and the individual that committed the crime was 14 yrs old. I’m sure you would look at it in a different way.

  • Amber

    I am 15. I know and understand that there are consequences. I know that I must take responsibility for my actions. I am sick of listening to the sob stories of how we should feel sympathy towards these poor children ( young crimminals) because they “didn’t understand that what they were doing is wrong.” You don’t have to be a baby eintstein to realize that sexually assulting and murdering a baby probably isn’t a good thing to do. In cases like these, we must remember the TRUE VICTIMS of these crimes. These victims won’t ever have a second chance at living, unlike their killers who will one day roam freely without a scratch on them.

  • Kishore Palle

    I can understand the pain of the boy’ family.

    But what about Emily and her family? All of those who support no punishment to this boy, I ask you one straight question, Even if he did not know what sex was, (this I highly doubt at this age), he was tackling a 2 year old girl who must have been crying, kicking, screaming and sobbing while trying to get away from this boy. Do you guys think he would not have appreciated that she was in pain / distress?

    Come on… little puppies under 2 months of age realize to back away when they hear the other puppy scream in pain. It is instinct. I am a guy into my late 20’s and I don’t have kids but I saw my nieces and nephews at young age. They knew when people are hurt, they will cry even at 5 years old.

    If any one of you seriously think that a 14 year old does not realize that he will hurt a little girl (probably 1/10 of his size) if he has sex with her (Yuk!) and not to let go off her when she was in pain and crying, you guys have a serious problem.

    If it was an accident like in that case where a 9 year old boy was involved in shooting a kid from next house while playing with gun, then I may choose to opt for the lighter punishment. But this crime is heinous on its face and deserves to be punished seriously.

    I am not advertising for punishing little kids but there is a violent line that we can see in this case and the kid should be punished for what he did.