This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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

 

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A03-759

 

In the Matter of the

Welfare of:  K.M.M.N.

 

Filed March 16, 2004

Reversed

Hudson, Judge

 

Hennepin County District Court

File No. J9-03-50857

 

 

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

 

Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Donna J. Wolfson, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55487 (for respondent)

 

Leonardo Castro, Fourth District Chief Public Defender, Melissa Haley, Assistant Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401 (for appellant K.M.M.N.)

 

            Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

HUDSON, Judge

            Fifteen-year-old appellant K.M.M.N. was adjudicated delinquent on two felony counts of second-degree assault.  The district court committed K.M.M.N. to the Chisholm House 120 Day program, but stayed the out-of-home placement and, among other conditions, placed K.M.M.N. on probation supervision until she turns 19.  On appeal, K.M.M.N. argues that the evidence is insufficient to support the delinquency adjudication because she used reasonable force in defending herself.  On appeal of her disposition order, K.M.M.N. argues that the court abused its discretion by refusing to stay the adjudication.  Because we find the evidence is not sufficient to sustain the delinquency adjudication, we reverse.

FACTS

On January 9, 2003, several students harassed and physically attacked K.M.M.N. on the city bus while she was on her way home from school.  On January 10, 2003, K.M.M.N. had a confrontation with the same students at school, and a fight broke out between K.M.M.N. and another female student.

            On the evening of January 11, 2003, K.M.M.N. and two friends went to Skateland, an indoor roller-skating rink.  Because K.M.M.N. anticipated that the students involved in the previous altercations would be at Skateland that night, she took a knife with her to Skateland, hiding it in her shoe so that the metal detector at the door would not detect it.  Once inside the rink, K.M.M.N. put the knife in her pocket.  As K.M.M.N. suspected, the teenagers who were involved in the previous altercations were at the rink and they confronted K.M.M.N. near the locker area.  K.M.M.N. and her friends walked away to avoid a confrontation.  K.M.M.N. went to the arcade area and sat in the seat of an “Indy 500” arcade game behind a steering wheel.  A teenage girl approached K.M.M.N. and goaded her to confront the larger group of teenagers.  K.M.M.N. refused, and without warning or provocation, the girl struck K.M.M.N. in the head.  An unidentified teenage boy also hit K.M.M.N. in the head.  Suddenly, a mob of teenagers formed and rushed toward K.M.M.N., knocking her to the ground, wedging her in between the arcade games.  The teenage mob punched and kicked K.M.M.N. and ripped her shirt and undershirt.  Ray Brooks, the disc jockey for Skateland, testified that not only were girls pressing in on K.M.M.N., trying to hit her, other teens were pouring into the room, trying to get at her.  He testified that people were everywhere, even coming through a blocked-off doorway to beat her up.  K.M.M.N. initially attempted to defend herself with her fists, but then pulled out her knife while she was on the ground and swung it toward her attackers.

Skateland security and staff rushed into the room, but K.M.M.N. continued to wildly swing her knife.  At least one Skateland employee said that it did not appear K.M.M.N. was trying to stab anyone as she was not swinging the knife in any particular direction and sometimes had her eyes closed.  The majority of the testimony indicates K.M.M.N. was simply trying to get the mob away from her.  But during the melee, K.M.M.N. stabbed Anthony Stroud, a Skateland security guard, in the stomach.  K.M.M.N. also stabbed a teenage girl, S.C., in the leg when the girl was pushed forward by the mob and fell into K.M.M.N.  S.C. testified that Stroud grabbed her and tried to push everybody else back, but people just kept coming.  S.C. testified that she did not think K.M.M.N. intentionally cut her.  Similarly, Stroud testified that he believed K.M.M.N. “intend[ed] to harm someone; it just happened to be [him] that night.”

The mob of teenagers continued to attack K.M.M.N. even after the security staff arrived.  Security guard Terry Robinson testified that the more they tried to protect K.M.M.N., the more the mob came.  He stated that “you didn’t see a person with a knife attacking another person.  You saw a person getting rushed by a lot of people.”  “[H]alf the skating rink [was] trying to jump on her and she was protecting herself.”  Eventually, the security staff restrained K.M.M.N. by pinning her to the ground and took the knife from K.M.M.N.  Members of the security staff testified that the mob continued to try to hit and kick K.M.M.N. while the security staff had her on the ground, and the security staff was hit and kicked as the teenage mob tried to get to K.M.M.N.  Members of the security staff also testified that they picked K.M.M.N. up and carried her out of the arcade area into a back storage room.  The police arrived and secured Skateland and took K.M.M.N. into custody.

            K.M.M.N. was charged with two felony counts of second-degree assault.  The district court adjudicated K.M.M.N. guilty of both counts of second-degree assault, finding that K.M.M.N. did not act reasonably by using a knife in self-defense and that she used excessive force by stabbing two people after adult security guards came to her aid and she was no longer in danger.  After a disposition hearing, the district court adjudicated K.M.M.N. delinquent.  The district court committed K.M.M.N. to the Chisholm House 120 Day program, but stayed the out-of-home placement, in part because K.M.M.N. was “an A+ student, active in school and community, a leader among her peers, and a volunteer in many worthwhile causes . . . [and] the Court’s psychologist essentially found her to be a good kind, warm, thoughtful young woman who made a serious lapse in judgment that night.”  The court placed K.M.M.N. on supervised probation until she turns 19, ordered her to participate in counseling, write a letter of apology to the victims, and perform 60 hours of community service.

D E C I S I O N

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 he or she did.  State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988). 

A person is authorized to use reasonable force upon or toward another person without the other person’s consent “when the following circumstances exist or the actor reasonably believes them to exist:  . . . (3) when used by any person in resisting or aiding another to resist an offense against the person.”  Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(3) (2002).  Reasonableness of the use of force involves both a subjective and an objective determination; a person may defend himself if he believes it to be reasonably necessary and if it would appear reasonably necessary to a reasonable person under similar circumstances.  State v. Bland, 337 N.W.2d 378, 381 (Minn. 1983); State v. Hennum, 428 N.W.2d 859, 866 (Minn. App. 1988), rev’d on other grounds, 441 N.W.2d 793 (Minn. 1989).

The legal excuse of self defense is available to those that act honestly and in good faith.  State v. Johnson, 277 Minn. 368, 373, 152 N.W.2d 529, 532 (1967).  The elements of self defense are:  (1) an absence of aggression or provocation; (2) an actual and honest belief that imminent death or great bodily harm would result; (3) a reasonable basis existed for this belief; and (4) an absence of reasonable means to retreat or otherwise avoid the physical conflict.  State v. Basting, 572 N.W.2d 281, 285 (Minn. 1997); Johnson, 277 Minn. at 373, 152 N.W.2d at 532.  The degree of force used in self defense must not exceed that which appears to be necessary to a reasonable person under similar circumstances.  Bland, 337 N.W.2d at 381; State v. McKissic, 415 N.W.2d 341, 344 (Minn. App. 1987).

A defendant has the burden of going forward with the evidence to support a claim of self defense.  State v. Graham, 371 N.W.2d 204, 209 (Minn. 1985).  Once it is raised, the state has the burden of disproving one or more of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt.  State v. Spaulding, 296 N.W.2d 870, 875 (Minn. 1980).  Any doubt regarding the legitimacy of a self-defense claim should be resolved in a defendant’s favor.  State v. Boitnott, 443 N.W.2d 527, 533 n.2 (Minn. 1989); State v. Soukup, 656 N.W.2d 424, 429 (Minn. App. 2003).

The state does not dispute that K.M.M.N. was authorized to use reasonable force in defending herself.  K.M.M.N. was not the original aggressor and did not provoke the mob of teenagers.  She actually and honestly believed, and was reasonable in her belief, that she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm; and there was no reasonable possibility that K.M.M.N. could retreat to avoid the danger.  Therefore, the only issue in this appeal is whether the degree of force that K.M.M.N. used in defending herself was reasonable under the circumstances.  In general “a reasonableness determination is properly made by the finder of fact.”  State v. Glowacki, 630 N.W.2d 392, 403 (Minn. 2001).  However, “when no reasonable mind could draw an adverse inference, the question may be decided as a matter of law.”  Id.

Initially, there were only two people attacking K.M.M.N. (the teenage girl who struck K.M.M.N. in the head, and the unidentified teenage boy who also hit K.M.M.N. in the head).  K.M.M.N. responded by trying to protect herself with her bare fists, and at this point in time, K.M.M.N. would not have been justified in using the knife. 

But when the mob of teenagers began attacking K.M.M.N., K.M.M.N. argues that she was then justified in using the knife in self-defense.  The state contends, however, that it was no longer reasonable for K.M.M.N. to continue swinging the knife after the security staff entered the room.  Although this is a close, difficult case, our review of the record convinces us that the evidence, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the adjudication, is not sufficient to sustain the district court’s conclusion that K.M.M.N. was no longer justified in displaying and swinging a knife after the security staff entered the room. 

It is undisputed that there were a large number of teenagers attacking K.M.M.N.—even the district court used the phrase “mob of teenagers” to describe the group attacking K.M.M.N.  In addition, it is uncontroverted that after K.M.M.N. initially tried to protect herself with her fists, the mob of teenagers pinned her between the arcade games and jumped on her, hit her, kicked her, ripped off her shirt, and started ripping off her undershirt.  At this point K.M.M.N. took out the knife and started swinging it towards the crowd of people attacking her in an attempt to back them off.  Indeed, the first staff person to enter the arcade testified that K.M.M.N. was swinging the knife to defend herself, “basically [saying to the mob] get away from me.”  But the critical point in time with respect to assessing the reasonableness of K.M.M.N.’s use of force was the point at which the security staff entered the room.  In other words, was K.M.M.N. still justified in using the knife once the security staff came to her aid?  Based on the record before us, the answer is “yes.”

We note first that the parties dispute whether Anthony Stroud, the injured security guard, was wounded when K.M.M.N. was still on the ground pinned between the arcade games; or whether he was injured when K.M.M.N. regained her feet and the security guards were attempting to get the knife from her.  The relevance being that if he was wounded while K.M.M.N. was still pinned between the arcade games, her use of the knife was eminently more reasonable.  The record, however, is unclear on this point, and indeed supports both positions.  But irrespective of when Stroud was injured, it is clear from the record that K.M.M.N. continued to wildly swing the knife once she was on her feet and being assisted by several security staff. 

The more salient point in our view, however, is the fact that even after the security staff came to her aid, the mob continued attacking K.M.M.N.  The state presses the fact that the security guards were attempting to help K.M.M.N. by dispersing the mob and that they eventually surrounded her as they attempted to get the knife from her.  Therefore, the state argues, her use of the knife at this juncture was unreasonable.  The state also points to testimony in the record which reflects that by this time, at least some of the crowd had “backed off.”  Thus, the state contends, K.M.M.N. became the aggressor by continuing to flail the knife.  But our review of the record—especially the testimony of the security guards themselves—convinces us that while some of the mob may have retreated, the mob was still quite large and, more importantly, security staff never had control of the situation or were able to adequately protect K.M.M.N.

Telling in this regard is S.C.’s testimony.  S.C. testified that Stroud was in the room, pushing people back as he tried to reach K.M.M.N., but everybody just kept coming.  Thus, K.M.M.N. remained in peril.  At one point the security staff had K.M.M.N. restrained on the ground, covering her with their bodies, yet the evidence shows that a member of the mob still managed to kick K.M.M.N. in the head.  Contrary to the state’s suggestion that K.M.M.N. was no longer in danger when the security staff arrived, the fact that she was kicked in the head with security staff all around her demonstrates that K.M.M.N. was still in significant danger.  In fact, one security staff person testified that “the more we protected, the more the [the mob of teenagers] came.”  Another security staff person testified that some of the people were still trying to “get at [K.M.M.N.] because she was on the ground, because we had to even fight off some blows.  They were even actually hitting us, you know, trying to get to [K.M.M.N.].”  He also testified that even as the security staff was carrying K.M.M.N. out of the arcade area “kids were hitting at us, trying to trip us, and we all like fell right behind the snack bar right in the aisle” and all three of the security staff “took some blows” from the members of the mob of teenagers.  Another security staff person testified that while the security staff was carrying K.M.M.N. out of the arcade area, the mob “was behind us rushing her . . . and I was basically covering her from all the other people hitting her.  I got punched, kicked, whatnot.”  Even after the security staff managed to get K.M.M.N. in a separate storage room, some of the mob continued to shout at K.M.M.N. and tried to get into the storage room. 

Our review of the record establishes that this was a fast-moving, chaotic, and frightening scene in which the violence of the mob perpetuated itself.  Not only did the danger not dissipate when the security staff arrived, the mob became more enraged.  The sheer number of people attacking K.M.M.N., and the security staff’s inability to protect her, reinforced her belief that she continued to be in peril.  Thus, her use of the knife to defend herself was reasonable, even after the security staff came to her aid.

Some of the trial court’s findings reflect that it was troubled—as are we—that K.M.M.N. came to Skateland that night even though she knew the other teenagers would likely be there as well.  Moreover, she came with a knife.  In addition, she did not alert Skateland security that she thought there might be a fight that night.  K.M.M.N.’s actions were irresponsible and defy adult common sense.  Nevertheless, as appellant correctly notes, these findings by the trial court do not support the conclusion that the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that K.M.M.N. used excessive force.  In determining whether a criminal defendant acted reasonably, the focus of the inquiry is not upon what the defendant might have done, but rather upon the reasonableness of what the defendant did.  See State v. Housley, 322 N.W.2d 746, 751 (Minn. 1982); State v. Fidel, 451 N.W.2d 350, 355 (Minn. App. 1990).  Thus, the question is whether what K.M.M.N. did once she was attacked was reasonable.

We conclude that under all the circumstances, K.M.M.N. used reasonable force in defending herself against the mob attack.  The evidence shows that K.M.M.N. was still in danger after the security staff entered the room.  Indeed, she remained under a persistent, consistent attack from a mob who only became more inflamed when the security staff intervened.  Thus, the evidence, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the adjudication, shows that K.M.M.N. used reasonable force in resisting the attack by the mob of teenagers and was justified in perceiving herself to be in continuing danger even after security staff arrived.

Because the evidence, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the adjudication, is not sufficient to sustain the fact-finder’s conclusions that the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that K.M.M.N. was no longer being threatened with deadly force or great bodily harm after the security staff entered the room, we reverse.  Because we reverse on the sufficiency of the evidence of K.M.M.N.’s conviction, we need not address K.M.M.N.’s claim that the district court erred in refusing to stay her adjudication of delinquency.

Reversed.