By Adam Duxter

Originally published April 8, 2022

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – It was the moment investigators had waited six years for. Finally, DNA evidence had linked a suspect to one of the city’s most gruesome crimes. One who, five years prior, had allegedly physically and sexually assaulted a five-year-old girl waiting for her school bus. On April 4, police arrested the suspect. He then confessed. Everything pointed towards charges and jail time, if not for a Minnesota law preventing it from ever happening.

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Minnesota State Statute Chapter 609 Section 055 reads as follows:

“The overall philosophy of the juvenile justice system is and always has been a sense that juveniles cannot be held accountable in the same ways as adults,” said former Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, who now works in private practice. “They’re different. They are children.”

In a release from the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, the office makes it clear they are unable to charge the suspect as an adult, despite them currently being 19. Instead, they have filed a delinquency petition, which could possibly lead to the suspect being listed as a sex offender for the rest of their life. Because they were 13 when the crime happened, the office cannot release the suspect’s name, or make the results of their delinquency petition public.

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“Any time a system, a legal system, a criminal justice system, draws lines, there’s going to be occasions where the result seems unfair,” Gaertner said. “If you change the law any time you have an occasional outlier, then you’re not going to have uniformity, you’re not going to have rules that work most of the time.”

Minnesota’s law is not uncommon. Most states have similar rules preventing children of a certain age or younger from being tried for a crime. In California, the minimum age was raised to 16 in 2021.

“In the real world, 13-year-olds, 12-year-olds have no appreciation of the reality of the consequences, of the self-control, the susceptibility to peers, all of the kinds of things that every parent knows,” said former University of Minnesota law professor Barry Feld.

“The reason you have a rule, is because it’s a rule. And if you have exceptions, it’s not a rule,” Feld said.

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“If you change the law every time one case is upsetting, every time one case doesn’t seem right, then you’re going to get a lot of cases that don’t seem right,” Gaertner said.

Adam Duxter