This opinion will be unpublished and may
not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
Chippewa County District Court
File No. J49950053
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for respondent state)
Dwayne N. Knutsen, Chippewa County Attorney, 102 Parkway Drive, Montevideo, MN 56265 (for respondent county)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Charlann Winking, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
In an appeal from a delinquency adjudication for criminal sexual conduct, R.A.M. argues that the trial procedure violated his constitutional confrontation rights and that the evidence is insufficient to support his adjudication. Because the district court’s individualized findings of necessity justify the confrontation restriction, and because the evidence was sufficient to sustain the adjudication, we affirm.
The district court adjudicated R.A.M. delinquent for first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving six-year-old D.W. R.A.M. was 15 years old when D.W. came to live for a year with R.A.M.’s family. During that year, when D.W.’s mother visited, she noticed that D.W. was acting unusual, and when he returned to live with her, he was “clingy” and “afraid to walk down the hallway.” He later told his mother that R.A.M. “put his John Henry up my butt” and “pissed in my mouth.”
R.A.M. was charged with criminal sexual penetration and contact in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 609.342, subd. 1(a); 609.343, subd. 1(a) (1996). In a pretrial motion, the prosecutor requested that D.W. be permitted to testify outside R.A.M.’s presence. The prosecutor cited three reasons for his request: D.W. had become very withdrawn and quiet, it was “very troublesome” for D.W. to talk about the matter, and three weeks earlier D.W. became physically ill and vomited after he talked to the prosecutor about the case. The district court was also aware that during an interview conducted by a registered nurse, D.W. said that R.A.M. threatened to beat him if he told anyone. The court met with D.W., observed his demeanor, and asked questions not directly related to the prosecution’s request. The court orally granted the prosecutor’s motion. After the competency hearing, the court issued a written order finding that R.A.M.’s presence during D.W.’s testimony would psychologically traumatize D.W. and render him unavailable to testify. The court ordered that R.A.M. view D.W.’s testimony on a video monitor while he maintained simultaneous audio communication with his attorney.
At the adjudication hearing, D.W. testified that R.A.M. “peed in my mouth,” “put his John Henry in my mouth,” and that R.A.M. “humped” him. The prosecutor also introduced a videotaped interview between D.W. and a registered nurse. During the videotaped interview, D.W. told the nurse that R.A.M. touched D.W.’s butt with his “John Henry,” that it hurt, that it happened as many as ten times, and that R.A.M. said “if you tell on me I’m gonna beat you up.” D.W. also said R.A.M. touched his penis and inserted a finger into his rectum. D.W.’s mother testified that D.W. told her that R.A.M. put his penis in D.W.’s rectum and “pissed” in D.W.’s mouth.
The court adjudicated R.A.M. delinquent, and he appeals, challenging (1) the restriction on his confrontation right and (2) the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the adjudication.
The U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions guarantee a criminal defendant “the right * * * to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” US. Cont. amend. VI; Minn. Const. art. 1, § 6. This right, however, is not absolute and exceptions may be necessary to promote an important public policy. Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836, 850, 110 S. Ct. 3157, 3166 (1990). Protecting the psychological well-being of child-abuse victims can be a sufficiently important state interest to justify infringement of this right. Id. at 855, 110 S. Ct. at 3169.
Minnesota allows children who are victims in criminal-sexual-conduct cases to testify outside the presence of a defendant if the witness is younger than 12 years old and the defendant’s presence “would psychologically traumatize the witness so as to render the witness unavailable to testify.” Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd. 4 (1998). The court may invoke this statute only after making an “individualized finding of necessity” and having found “by specific evidence that the particular witness is or would be psychologically traumatized and that traumatization is substantially caused by the presence of the defendant.” State v. Conklin, 444 N.W.2d 268, 272, 274 (Minn. 1989). General anxiety does not justify infringing the defendant’s confrontation right. See Craig, 497 U.S. at 856, 110 S. Ct. at 3169 (noting trauma must not arise from courtroom generally and must be more than de minimis); Conklin, 444 N.W.2d at 274 (requiring more than mere nervousness). Infringement of confrontation rights is subject to a harmless-error analysis. Id. at 275.
The district court made an individualized finding of necessity, but R.A.M., relying on three Minnesota cases, contends that the court’s finding lacks an adequate evidentiary basis. The cases on which R.A.M. relies, however, do not compel a contrary result. See Conklin, 444 N.W.2d at 274 (holding district court violated defendant’s confrontation right); State v. Peterson, 530 N.W.2d 843, 847 (Minn. App. 1995) (same); State v. Ross, 451 N.W.2d 231, 235 (Minn. App. 1990) (holding district court did not violate defendant’s confrontation right, review denied (Minn. Apr. 13, 1990). In Conklin, the Minnesota Supreme Court concluded that the district court violated a defendant’s confrontation right because its findings were ambiguous and because it failed to make a finding of necessity. 444 N.W.2d at 273-74. Similarly, in Peterson this court concluded the district court violated the defendant’s confrontation right partly because the child was not younger than 12 and partly because the district court did not interview the child before it made its decision and did not inquire into the child’s willingness to testify. 530 N.W.2d at 846-47. In Ross, on the other hand, this court held that the district court did not violate the defendant’s confrontation right because the district court made its individualized findings after observing the child, noting that she was scared in the defendant’s presence, and hearing evidence that the child told the prosecutor she was scared and uncomfortable in the defendant’s presence. 451 N.W.2d at 235.
Similar to the inquiry in Ross, the district court properly conducted an inquiry of D.W. The court specifically based its decision on (1) discussions with D.W.; (2) observations of D.W.; (3) D.W.’s age, apparent maturity, and demeanor; (4) the offer of proof that D.W. became physically ill after meeting with the prosecutor; and (5) a review of the entire file, including D.W.’s statement to the nurse that R.A.M. said he would beat him if he told anyone. Additionally, D.W.’s mother testified that D.W. had been quiet, withdrawn, “clingy,” and “afraid” since returning home. See Ross, 451 N.W.2d at 235 (supporting district court on appeal with evidence “beyond the trial court’s own perception”) (citing State v. Borough, 279 Minn. 199, 202, 156 N.W.2d 757, 759 (1968)).
The evidence supporting the district court’s finding amounts to more than an ambiguous statement about generalized anxiety. The district court satisfied Conklin’s individualized-finding-of-necessity requirement. Because we conclude that the confrontation restriction was not error, it is unnecessary for us to determine whether R.A.M.’s exclusion from the courtroom was harmless. We note, however, that the record contains ample evidence of R.A.M.’s guilt, including D.W.’s uncontroverted testimony, the videotaped interview with the nurse, and the statements D.W. made to his mother. Cf. State v. Pride, 528 N.W.2d 862, 867 (Minn. 1995) (holding error not harmless because testimony was controverted, critical, and lacked corroboration).
R.A.M. also argues that the court should have found a less-restrictive means of taking D.W.’s testimony. But neither the statute nor Conklin imposes this requirement. See Minn. Stat. § 595.02, subd. 4 (setting forth statutory requirements); Conklin, 444 N.W.2d at 274 (providing guidance on how to meet those requirements); see also Craig, 497 U.S. at 859-60, 110 S. Ct. at 3171 (declining to impose a less-restrictive-alternative analysis as a categorical evidentiary prerequisite).
R.A.M. also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence. The evidence supporting a delinquency adjudication must establish the truth of the petition beyond a reasonable doubt. In re Welfare of S.W.T., 277 N.W.2d 507, 514 (Minn. 1979). On review, we examine the record, making all legitimate inferences in the light most favorable to the decision. In re Welfare of M.D.S., 345 N.W.2d 723, 733-34 (Minn. 1984). The trier of fact assesses witness credibility. In re Welfare of S.A.M., 570 N.W.2d 162, 167 (Minn. App. 1997).
The elements of first-degree criminal sexual conduct are that the actor engaged in sexual penetration with a person younger than 13 years old and that the actor was more than 36 months older than the complainant. Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1(a) (1996). Second-degree criminal sexual conduct requires only sexual contact, but is otherwise the same. Minn. Stat. § 609.343, subd. 1(a) (1996). The age element is undisputed in this case.
R.A.M. argues that the lack of physical evidence and inconsistencies in D.W.’s statements make the evidence insufficient to satisfy the penetration and contact elements. We disagree. First, the district court credited the nurse’s testimony that the lack of physical evidence was not unusual. Second, the district court found credible D.W.’s mother’s testimony about D.W.’s statements. Third, even assuming that only D.W.’s testimony should be considered, testimony by a complainant in sexual-assault cases does not require corroboration, and a conviction can rest on the uncorroborated evidence of a single credible witness. Minn. Stat. § 609.347, subd. 1 (1996); State v. Ani, 257 N.W.2d 699, 700 (Minn. 1977). Although D.W. may have augmented his earlier testimony with new information, he did not recant prior testimony, and he consistently reported the general details of R.A.M.’s sexual contact. Making all legitimate inferences from the record in the light most favorable to the decision, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the adjudication. Cf. State v. Huss, 506 N.W.2d 290, 292 (Minn. 1993) (finding evidence insufficient when only evidence was alleged victim’s unreliable and contradictory testimony).