This opinion will be unpublished and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
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
Filed November 23, 2004
Stearns County District Court
File No. J8-03-50829
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Ann McCaughan, Assistant State Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Suite 1800, NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
Janelle P. Kendall, Stearns County Attorney, Eric Boe, Assistant County Attorney, Administration Center, Room 448, 705 Courthouse Square, St. Cloud, MN 56303-4701 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellant challenges his adjudication as delinquent on one count of first-degree criminal damage to property, asserting that the adjudication is based on uncorroborated accomplice testimony. We affirm.
On the early morning of April 30, 2003, several residents at a townhouse complex discovered that the tires of their vehicles had been slashed. Sauk Centre Police Chief Amor Himsl responded to the scene. The residents alleged that the perpetrators, three teenage boys, were in unit 116. Himsl went to this unit where seventeen-year-old J.F. and his parents were present. When questioned about the incident, J.F. denied any involvement and stated that sixteen-year-old J.W. and fifteen-year-old J.J.M. were responsible.
Himsl located J.W. and J.J.M. later that day. Before taking the teenagers into custody, Himsl searched J.J.M. and found a folding pocketknife. Himsl then questioned both teenagers. J.W. reported that he saw J.J.M. slash a tire with a penknife, that he left J.J.M. during the slashing, and that J.J.M. later admitted slashing tires on nine vehicles. J.J.M. denied involvement in the incident but admitted that he was with J.F. and J.W. the prior evening. J.J.M. was later transported to a juvenile residential facility, where he was searched again and a penknife was recovered.
A delinquency petition was filed against J.J.M., alleging first-degree criminal damage to property, a violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.595, subd. 3 (2002). J.J.M. denied the allegations in the petition, and the matter proceeded to trial. Neither J.W. nor J.F. was charged.
At trial, statements made by J.W. and J.J.M. during Himsl’s questioning on April 30 were admitted by stipulation. J.J.M. testified that, because of his drug use on the night of the incident, he did not recall what happened. J.F. testified that J.W. and J.J.M. left unit 116 around 9 p.m. When they returned approximately twenty minutes later, J.J.M. said that they had been slashing tires. J.J.M. then showed J.F. a penknife he used.
Two residents from the townhouse complex testified about events occurring around midnight on the date of the incident. One resident saw two or three people walk to unit 116 from the area where the tires were slashed, but was unable to identify any of the people observed. The other resident identified J.W. as one of the “kids in the parking lot” in the area where the tires were slashed, and heard J.W. call out J.J.M.’s name.
Following the trial, the district court found J.J.M. guilty of first-degree criminal damage to property and adjudicated him delinquent. This appeal followed.
J.J.M. challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his adjudication for first-degree criminal damage to property, arguing that it is based on uncorroborated accomplice testimony. Our review of a claim of insufficient evidence is limited to a careful analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the delinquency adjudication, is sufficient to allow the fact-finder to reach a guilty verdict. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989); see also In re Welfare of J.R.M., 653 N.W.2d 207, 210 (Minn. App. 2002) (applying same standard to juvenile cases). In doing so, we accord circumstantial evidence as much weight as other kinds of evidence. State v. Pederson, 614 N.W.2d 724, 732 (Minn. 2000). We will uphold the verdict if the fact-finder, giving due regard to the presumption of innocence and the state’s burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could have reasonably found the defendant guilty of the offense charged. State v. Thomas, 590 N.W.2d 755, 757-58 (Minn. 1999).
Because accomplice testimony is “inherently untrustworthy,” independent evidence must support it. Pederson, 614 N.W.2d at 732. “A conviction cannot be had upon the testimony of an accomplice, unless it is corroborated by such other evidence as tends to convict the defendant of the commission of the offense . . . .” Minn. Stat. § 634.04 (2002). Section 634.04 applies to juvenile adjudications as well as criminal convictions. In re Welfare of K.A.Z., 266 N.W.2d 167, 169 (Minn. 1978). Corroborating evidence may include physical evidence related to the crime, eyewitness testimony, and suspicious conduct of the accused. Pederson, 614 N.W.2d at 732.
As a threshold matter, the state challenges J.J.M.’s contention that J.F. and J.W. are accomplices. A witness is an accomplice if that witness could have been charged and convicted of the same crime as the accused. State v. Henderson, 620 N.W.2d 688, 701 (Minn. 2001). A witness who had some knowing role in the commission of the crime and took no action to stop it qualifies as an accomplice. State v. Flournoy, 535 N.W.2d 354, 359 (Minn. 1995). But if a witness only learns of a crime after the fact—even if the witness helps the accused conceal the crime or evade prosecution—the witness is not an accomplice. See Henderson, 620 N.W.2d at 701. For example, in State v. Hayes, we determined that, when a witness accompanied the accused between crimes, discussed the crimes with the accused before and after the offense, and waited in a vehicle during commission of the crimes, that witness was an accomplice. 351 N.W.2d 654, 655-56 (Minn. App. 1984), review denied (Minn. Sept. 12, 1984). But when a witness was present while the accused proposed the crime but did not take an active part in its planning or execution, that witness was not an accomplice. In re Welfare of D.M.K., 343 N.W.2d 863, 867 (Minn. App. 1984).
Here, the evidence establishes that J.W. accompanied J.J.M. while J.J.M. slashed the tires. We may infer for the purpose of this analysis that J.W. assisted J.J.M. with the crime. See Hayes, 351 N.W.2d at 656 (inferring participation from presence and knowledge). Thus, J.W. arguably was an accomplice. Conversely, the evidence establishes that J.F. had no knowledge of J.J.M.’s crime until after its commission. Because J.F. had no role in the planning or execution of the crime, he is not an accomplice and his testimony does not require corroboration.
Having concluded for this analysis that J.W. was an accomplice, we next consider whether J.W.’s statements were sufficiently corroborated by independent evidence. It is not necessary for corroborating evidence to independently establish every element of the crime. Pederson, 614 N.W.2d at 732. Rather, there need only be some evidence, whether direct or circumstantial, that demonstrates the principal’s “opportunity and motive to commit the crime and . . . proximity to the place where the crime was committed.” State v. Nelson, 632 N.W.2d 193, 202 (Minn. 2001) (quoting State v. Adams, 295 N.W.2d 527, 533 (Minn. 1980)). Sufficient corroboration exists if such evidence restores confidence in the truthfulness of the accomplice’s testimony. Id.
Where accomplice testimony establishes that an accused was present at the scene of a crime, and circumstantial evidence confirms that the accused had access to the instrumentalities of the crime, there is sufficient corroboration to support the conviction. See Hayes, 351 N.W.2d at 656-57 (concluding that nearby tire tracks from the accused’s vehicle and the recovery of stolen property from the accused were sufficient corroboration of accomplice testimony to prove that accused burglarized several homes); see also Nelson, 632 N.W.2d at 203 (holding that, although neither accomplice directly observed the homicide, there was sufficient corroboration of accomplice testimony based on recovery of the body and the weapon and blood stains on the scene). Corroboration may even be established by an accused’s limited admissions. For example, in State v. Hole, two accomplices testified that they were with the accused during a theft. 400 N.W.2d 430, 432 (Minn. App. 1987). The accused denied committing the crime but admitted being with the accomplices at the approximate time and place of the crime. Id. at 432-33. We held that, based on the recovery of stolen property and the accused’s own admissions, there was sufficient corroboration of the crime. Id. at 434.
Here, only J.F. and J.W. provide any direct evidence that J.J.M. committed the crime. J.F. testified that J.J.M. admitted slashing the tires. And J.W. told police that he witnessed J.J.M. slashing a tire with a penknife. Both of these statements are amply corroborated by circumstantial evidence. One resident at the townhouse complex saw J.W. near the site of the offense and heard J.W. call J.J.M.’s name. During the investigation the next day, complex residents directed Himsl to unit 116. J.J.M. admitted that he was at unit 116 with J.F. and J.W. around the time of the offense. And a penknife was recovered from J.J.M. Taken as a whole, this evidence is consistent with descriptions of the incident offered by J.W. and J.F.
When viewed in the light most favorable to the delinquency adjudication, the facts establish that J.J.M. was near the site of the crime and had an opportunity to commit the offense. These facts supply confidence as to the truthfulness of relevant portions of the statements made by J.F. and J.W. that incriminate J.J.M. Accordingly, there is sufficient evidence corroborating the accomplice statements implicating J.J.M. in the commission of first-degree criminal damage to property. J.J.M.’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his delinquency adjudication, therefore, fails.