This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).







In the Matter of the

Welfare of:  L.O.W.



Filed October 28, 2003


Randall, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. 240450/J7-02-066187


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101-2134; and


Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Michael Richardson, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55487 (for respondent state)


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Sara L. Martin, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55414 (for appellant juvenile)


            Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant L.O.W. was adjudicated delinquent on one count of second-degree assault for stabbing another juvenile with a knife.  The district court ordered L.O.W. to complete a 12-month, out-of-home program at Hennepin County Home School.  On appeal of her delinquency adjudication, L.O.W. argues that the evidence is insufficient because she acted in self-defense and used reasonable force in defending herself.  On appeal of her disposition order, L.O.W. argues that the court abused its discretion in ordering her to complete the Home School program because it is not the least-restrictive alternative to restore her to law-abiding conduct.  We find the evidence was sufficient to support the adjudication of L.O.W. and the district court’s findings were sufficient to support the disposition.  Affirmed.


            L.O.W. waited for a city bus after school, when the victim, who was accompanied by four other people, approached L.O.W. and punched her with a closed fist.  L.O.W. responded by stabbing the victim several times, then dropping her knife, and running back to the school.  The victim sustained several wounds and received stitches at the Hennepin County Medical Center.  The victim does not have any continuing problems from the injury, but has several scars.  At some point during the altercation the bus arrived, but subsequently shut its doors and pulled away before L.O.W. could board.

            The district court adjudicated L.O.W. delinquent on the charge of second-degree assault, finding L.O.W. did not act in self-defense.  The district court’s disposition ordered L.O.W. to complete a 12-month out-of-home program at the Hennepin County Home School.  This appeal follows.



Sufficiency of the Evidence

L.O.W. argues that the evidence is insufficient to support her adjudication of second-degree assault because the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was not acting in self-defense.  When reviewing a claim of insufficient evidence, this court examines the record and determines if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the conviction, is sufficient to sustain the fact-finder’s conclusions.  State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989).  This court will not reverse a decision if the fact-finder, acting with respect for the principles of presumed innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could have reasonably found as it did.  State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988). 

            To prove a claim of self-defense, a defendant must show: (1) the defendant was not the original aggressor and did not provoke the other party; (2) the defendant actually and honestly believed he or she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm; (3) the defendant was reasonable in this belief; and (4) there was no reasonable possibility that the defendant could retreat to avoid the danger.  State v. Basting, 572 N.W.2d 281, 285 (Minn. 1997).  In addition, the defendant must reasonably believe that the use of force was necessary and use “only the level of force reasonably necessary to prevent the harm feared.”  State v. Glowacki, 630 N.W.2d 392, 399 (Minn. 2001).  Once the defense is raised, the state must disprove one of its elements beyond a reasonable doubt.  State v. Spaulding, 296 N.W.2d 870, 875 (Minn. 1980).  This case is close.  L.O.W. legitimately raised the issue of self-defense, but we conclude the district court could have reasonably found the state disproved at least two of the elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

            L.O.W. must have reasonably believed she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.  It is clear that the victim simply punched L.O.W. and no weapon was involved.  The victim was accompanied by four other people, and L.O.W. argues that she believed the other people from the group were going to join in the attack, and that could cause great bodily harm.  The evidence supports the district court’s finding that L.O.W. could not fear “great bodily harm,” because no other member of the group attacked L.O.W., no evidence of any weapons in that group was offered; and the record does not support an inference that the other four were on the verge of attacking L.O.W. just before she pulled her knife.

The evidence supports the conclusion that L.O.W.’s use of force was not reasonable in this situation.  L.O.W. argues that her use of force was reasonable because it would be difficult for her to fight off five people relying on her fists alone.  L.O.W. claims that she used the knife as little as necessary to effectuate her escape.  The evidence shows the victim only punched L.O.W.  The evidence shows that no one else punched L.O.W.  L.O.W. escalated the altercation considerably by pulling out a knife and stabbing her “assailant victim” several times.

On these facts, we cannot conclude the district court erred when it found that L.O.W.’s self-defense claim had been disproved and her use of force to defend herself was not reasonable.  We affirm the adjudication of second-degree assault.


Disposition Order

“In delinquency cases, district courts have broad discretion to order dispositions authorized by statute.”  In re Welfare of J.B.A., 581 N.W.2d 37, 38 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Aug. 31, 1998).  “Absent a clear abuse of that discretion, the disposition will not be disturbed.”  Id.

LO.W. argues that the disposition was arbitrary and that the district court did not consider all of the required factors to impose the least-restrictive disposition.

A district court ordering a disposition is required to make written findings of fact to support the disposition ordered.  Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 1(m) (2002).  A district court ordering out-of-home placement is required to make findings of fact that show:  (1) why public safety is served by the disposition; (2) why the best interests of the child are served by the disposition; (3) what alternative dispositions were proposed to the court and why such recommendations were not ordered; (4) why the child’s present custody is not acceptable; and (5) how the correctional placement meets the child’s needs.  Id.; In re Welfare of C.A.W., 579 N.W.2d 494, 497-98 (Minn. App. 1998).  Written findings are essential for a meaningful appellate review; to show the district court considered the vital standards; and to enable the parties to understand the court’s decision.  In re Welfare of L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d 392, 400-01 (Minn. App. 1985).

This court has repeatedly emphasized the importance of these findings, holding that inadequate juvenile disposition findings constitute reversible error.  See id. (holding insufficient findings are an independent basis for reversal); In re Welfare of J.S.S., 610 N.W.2d 364, 368 (Minn. App. 2000) (reversing for failure to make sufficient statutorily required written findings of fact); C.A.W.,579 N.W.2d at 499 (reversing where district court’s findings did not address the factors necessary to justify out-of-home placement).

            On the whole, the district court’s order contained sufficient written findings explaining and supporting its disposition.  The record reflects the district court made detailed findings that public safety and the best interests of L.O.W. are served by the disposition.  The district court also detailed how the correctional placement meets L.O.W.’s needs.  The record reflects that the district court considered the alternative dispositions that were proposed, and reasonable inferences can be drawn as to why the district court did not choose the alternative dispositions.  The district court noted that the Hennepin County Home School is most appropriate as it offers psychological services to deal with the issues that led to this offense as well as allow L.O.W. to continue her education in a school program.  Finally, logical inferences can be drawn as to the district court’s decision that L.O.W.’s present custody (with her family) is not acceptable.  The district court noted that L.O.W. has a prior delinquency record including truancy and suspensions; and despite being offered treatment, neither L.O.W. nor her family has sought treatment for L.O.W.  In total, the record contains adequate written findings explaining and supporting the district court’s disposition.