Northern lawmakers seek to increase penalty for harm to a child
On Thursday Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Representative Mary Hubler, D-Rice Lake, encouraged an Assembly Committee to adopt “Emma’s law” to increase the penalty for recklessly causing great bodily harm to a child. The bill is named on behalf of Emmaline Manning of Spooner, a 2-year-old child who sustained permanent brain damage in 2007 as the result of a severe head trauma. Her mother’s fiancé Michael Stoner was sentenced to the maximum penalty of seven and half years in Dodge Correctional Facility and five years of extended supervision. Had the law been in effect the judge could have assigned Stoner to an additional two and a half years in prison.
Washburn County Sheriff Terry Dryden and District Attorney J. Michael Bitney contacted Jauch and Hubler to express concern about a discrepancy in current law that allows law enforcement to charge an individual who recklessly harms a child with a lesser level of felony than if they recklessly harmed an adult. The legislators immediately introduced legislation to correct the flaw in the law.
“Although harming a child and harming an adult are both very serious crimes, we can agree that harming a child should not be treated as a lesser offense than harming an adult,” Jauch said. “This bill creates a penalty structure consistent with our values. Harming a child is one of the most heinous crimes and a fair penalty structure recognizing the gravity of the crime absolutely makes sense.
“Frankly, I am appalled to have learned that this discrepancy has stayed in the statutes as it is contrary to our basic sense of justice.”
On Aug. 1, 2007, 2-year-old Emmaline Manning was taken to the hospital in Spooner with a severe brain injury. Due to the severity of the injury, the child was flown to a Minneapolis hospital and it was later learned that the mother’s fiancé, Michael Stoner, had caused the life threatening injury. That was also the day the I-35 Minnesota bridge collapsed. Stoner and the girl’s mother were caught on the bridge as it collapsed while they were rushing to be by her side. They survived after swimming from their vehicle to safety.
“It is a terrible story,” Hubler said. “Causing that kind of damage to a helpless child is an unforgivable outrage, and I admit that I am among those who have to fight back a desire for revenge.
“Even though I remain outraged at the senseless injury to little Emma, this bill does more than provide an emotional outlet; it corrects an obvious defect in the sentencing structure.”
The two lawmakers said they are naming this bill Emma’s Law to recognize the tragedy suffered by the Manning family. Emma will never have the quality of life she deserves, but this bill can provide some comfort that future perpetrators will be punished more appropriately for the suffering they caused, they said.
The Assembly Committee will vote on the bill soon and a Senate Committee will hold a hearing on the measure in the near future. After passage in committee it will advance to the full legislature early next year.