New bill aims to raise age of juvenile accused of crime from 18 to 21

A new Minnesota bill aims to expand the age of a juvenile accused of a crime from 18 to 21.

"We’re trying to line up what the science tells us and what the data tells us with how our systems actually work – how our criminal justice system works and how we’re dealing with our young people," said Rep. Cedrick Frazier (DFL-New Hope), who is a co-author on the bill.

Frazier cites science that says our brains aren’t fully developed well into our twenties as reasoning behind the proposal.

But members of law enforcement say young people know right from wrong, and that you can’t be selective when applying that kind of science.

"Science would have to explain to me again why you are OK if you make a great decision, let’s say to join one of our armed forces at age 18 – then that’s a great decision. But you go out and murder somebody, well, hey your brain’s not quite developed," Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt told FOX 9. "Somebody needs to teach me – show me why it’s different when it’s a bad decision versus a good decision."

Law enforcement officials at town hall meeting about juvenile crime.  (FOX 9)

Bloomington Police Chief Booker Hodges says the science-based reasoning is forgetting the victims in these crimes. 

"A lot of the arguments that they make for a lot of these typically are racial disparity-based arguments, right? The issue is they never talk about the disparity in the victims. We’re always talking about the people who commit these crimes," Hodges told FOX 9.

A committee has not heard the bill, though it’s been referred to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee. It remains unclear whether the proposal will make it all the way to Governor Tim Walz for approval.

"To think of a 20-year-old as a child, I think that’s a tough hurdle for most of us to get over," said Hodges.

"Racial disparities have nothing to do with this – this is about what’s right and what’s wrong," Witt said.

The line of thinking likely sounds familiar, it’s because Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarity has used it when prosecuting juveniles.

But her office tells FOX 9 they had nothing to do with its inspiration.

"This bill does maintain the ability to certify a juvenile as an adult, including first degree murder," Rep. Sandra Feist (DFL-New Brighton), the bill's lead author, told FOX 9 on Tuesday. "Note that this bill is the beginning of a conversation and will require significant conversation and input."