Note: The Juvenile Ultimatum: Reframing Blended Sentencing Laws to Ensure Juveniles Receive a Genuine “One Last Chance at Success”

By Anabel Cassady. Full text here. Full text here.

Blended sentencing laws allow judges to impose either or both a juvenile court disposition and an adult criminal court sentence on certain juvenile offenders. Minnesota’s blended sentencing statute, known as Extended Jurisdiction Juvenile (EJJ), was enacted in 1995 with the intention of giving juveniles “one last chance at success in the juvenile system.” Under Minnesota’s blended sentencing scheme, a juvenile court judge imposes both a juvenile disposition and an adult criminal sentence—but, crucially, the adult criminal sentence is stayed, that is, not executed, pending successful completion of the delinquency disposition.

Although Minnesota’s model sounds like a favorable law for juveniles—such that it provides them with another opportunity to stay out of the adult correctional system—critics are skeptical of the statute and believe that even if its intentions were to give juveniles “one last chance at success in the juvenile system,” it has actually done a lot more harm than good and too often youth are not given a meaningful opportunity to avoid an adult sentence. Thus, this Note centers on whether, despite its unintended consequences, EJJ, and blended sentencing more generally, could still play an important role in Minnesota and elsewhere, if amended in certain ways.

This Note argues that Minnesota’s blended sentencing scheme, while flawed, can be successfully amended to resolve its shortcomings. First, the EJJ statute should be amended to require the commission of a new crime in order to execute the original stayed adult sentence. Second, the statute should be amended so that judges deciding whether to revoke a youth’s probation and execute the stayed adult sentence would be required to hold a hearing similar to an adult certification hearing, which is the proper forum for determining whether the juvenile actually poses a threat to public safety. And third, the statute should be amended to include a stay of imposition in addition to the stay of execution. This Note concludes by arguing that if amended and implemented in a way that balances the interests of society with the interests of an EJJ youth deemed not to pose a threat to public safety, then Minnesota’s EJJ may serve as a model for other states in the growing trend towards extending juvenile jurisdiction and the broader movement of criminal justice reform.