This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).






In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of:

Valerie Danette Seals aka Valerie White d.o.b. 2-17-1960.


Filed July 9, 2002


Kalitowski, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. P80160243


Marilyn B. Knudsen, 1043 Grand Avenue, #207, St. Paul, MN 55105 (for appellant Valerie Seals)


Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, John L. Kirwin, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellant Valerie Danette Seals appeals from an indeterminate commitment as mentally ill and dangerous.  Appellant contends that (a) the court and experts failed to consider her actions in the context of domestic abuse; (b) her behavior was not the result of mental illness; and (c) her actions in slashing her fiancé with a serrated kitchen knife across the chin and chest along with another assault conviction were not sufficient to constitute overt acts meeting the standard for commitment as mentally ill and dangerous.  We affirm.



            When reviewing a civil commitment, this court examines whether the district court complied with the statute, and whether the commitment is justified by findings supported by evidence at the hearing.  In re Knops, 536 N.W.2d 616, 620 (Minn. 1995).  The record is viewed in the light most favorable to the district court’s decision, and findings shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous.  Id.  A reviewing court shall give due regard to the opportunity of the district court to judge the credibility of the witnesses.  Id.  Where the district court’s findings of fact rest almost entirely on expert testimony, the district court’s evaluation of credibility is of particular significance.  Id. 


            Appellant contends that the district court erred by determining appellant was dangerous when it did not apply a standard that included defenses and mitigation.  More specifically, appellant claims that she was simply defending herself from domestic abuse, so her actions were not dangerous, especially since she was in her own home and had no duty to retreat.  We disagree.

            Although the victim had been convicted of a prior incident for domestic abuse, the record here includes no evidence of abuse on the night of the incident.  Moreover, the victim’s testimony indicates that appellant was the aggressor in the incident and attacked him with a knife for no reason.  Because there is no evidence that appellant defended herself from an attack, the district court did not err by failing to apply a standard of self-defense.

            In addition, even if self-defense was an issue, appellant still had a duty to use reasonable force in acting in self-defense.  See State v. Glowacki, 630 N.W.2d 392, 402 (Minn. 2001).  Appellant suggests that the victim acted weird but offers little else to support her need to defend herself.  And the victim’s testimony suggests that he was trying to leave the apartment but appellant blocked the door while holding a knife.  Thus, we conclude the record supports the district court’s determination, and the district court made no error in failing to apply a standard on self-defense.


Appellant contends that the district court erred by failing to require a causal connection between appellant’s supposedly dangerous conduct and her mental-illness diagnosis.  We disagree.

            The district court found a clear link between appellant’s illness and the overt acts.  The district court found that

the symptoms of [appellant’s] mental illness, as exacerbated by her borderline mental retardation and her chemical dependency, cause her to react violently to perceived threats, primarily as a result of her paranoid delusions. 


            This finding is supported by a report by a board-certified psychiatrist, as well as testimony from the Director of Forensic Services in the Psychiatric Division of Hennepin County Medical Center.  Because there is evidence to support the district court’s finding linking appellant’s conduct and her mental illness, it is not clearly erroneous and must be upheld.


            Finally, appellant contends the evidence was insufficient for a civil commitment as mentally ill and dangerous.  We disagree.

            Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 17 (2000), defines a person as mentally ill and dangerous to the public as

a person (a) who is mentally ill; and (b) who as a result of that mental illness presents a clear danger to the safety of others as demonstrated by the facts that (i) the person has engaged in an overt act causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another and (ii) there is a substantial likelihood that the person will engage in acts capable of inflicting serious physical harm on another.


            Here, ample evidence supported the determination that appellant was mentally ill and dangerous.  Two experts who examined appellant testified that appellant had one form or another of schizophrenia as well as borderline intellectual functioning.  Additionally, one of those experts testified about her alcohol and drug abuse.  Both experts concluded that appellant was mentally ill and dangerous.  Thus, sufficient evidence supports the district court’s determination to commit appellant as mentally ill and dangerous.

            Appellant contends that her conduct did not rise to the degree of harm contemplated by the mentally ill and dangerous statute.  We disagree.  The district court found that the

[victim] sustained knife wounds to his hand, chest, face and chin requiring numerous stitches.  He was hospitalized for three days.  The deep cut across [victim’s] chin and neck narrowly missed his jugular vein.  These injuries created a high probability of death and have resulted in serious permanent disfigurement.


An injury that creates a high probability of death certainly complies with the statute’s requirement of “serious physical harm.”  See Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 17.  Thus, we conclude the district court did not err by committing appellant as mentally ill and dangerous.