This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).







In the Matter of the

Civil Commitment of

William George Sargent.


Filed February 22, 2005


Hudson, Judge


Roseau County District Court

File No. P5-02-245


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Angela M. Helseth, Assistant Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101-2134 (for respondent state)


David L. Kraker, David L. Kraker & Associates, 3109 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Willis, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellant challenges the district court’s May 25, 2004 order denying his constitutional challenges to Minnesota’s civil commitment statutes and its July 19, 2004 order denying his motion to withdraw from a stipulation for indeterminate commitment. Appellant argues that (1) Minnesota’s civil commitment statute violates his state and federal constitutional right to a jury trial; (2) he did not waive his right to a jury trial knowingly and intelligently and should therefore be allowed to withdraw from the January 8, 2004 stipulation; and (3) the district court failed to consider less-restrictive treatment alternatives in light of the governor’s recent executive order.  Because appellant has not provided any authority, under either the state constitution or the federal constitution, requiring a jury trial in a civil commitment proceeding, and because he entered into a valid stipulation for commitment, we affirm.


On October 9, 2003, the state filed a petition seeking to commit appellant as a sexually dangerous person (SDP) and a sexual psychopathic personality (SPP).  The district court appointed two psychologists to examine appellant, and both submitted reports recommending appellant be committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP).

On January 8, 2004, appellant entered into a stipulation with the state for commitment as an SDP and an SPP.  At the time the stipulation was entered, appellant reserved his right to challenge his commitment on constitutional grounds and also reserved his right to a review hearing prior to an indeterminate commitment.  Appellant subsequently challenged the constitutionality of Minnesota’s commitment statutes.  And on May 25, 2004, the district court entered an order denying appellant’s constitutional challenges.  

Appellant then filed a motion to withdraw the stipulation.  On July 12, 2004, appellant’s 60-day review hearing was held before the district court.  On July 19, 2004, the district court entered an order denying appellant’s motion to withdraw the stipulation and also entered a final order for indeterminate commitment.  This appeal follows.




A. Minnesota Constitution

            Appellant first argues that he was entitled to a jury trial in this civil commitment proceeding under the Minnesota Constitution.  A constitutional right to a jury trial exists to the extent the right existed in the territory of Minnesota at the time Minnesota’s Constitution was adopted.  Olson v. Synergistic Techs. Bus. Sys., Inc., 628 N.W.2d 142, 148 (Minn. 2001).  A party is not entitled to a jury trial under the state constitution if “that same type of action did not entitle a party to a jury trial at the time the Minnesota Constitution was adopted.”  Id. at 149. 

            Relying heavily on the reasoning of a recent law-review article, appellant challenges previous supreme court decisions stating that Minnesota’s Constitution does not guarantee a right to a jury trial in civil commitment proceedings.  See C. Peter Erlinder, Essay: Of Rights Lost and Rights Found: The Coming Restoration of the Right to a Jury Trial in Minnesota Civil Commitment Proceedings, 29 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 1269 (2003).  But appellant concedes that the supreme court has long held that the state constitution does not guarantee a right to a jury trial in a civil commitment proceeding.  See, e.g., State ex rel. Pearson v. Probate Ct., 205 Minn. 545, 556–57, 287 N.W. 297, 303 (1939) (finding that Minnesota’s constitution does not guarantee a jury trial for commitment of a psychopathic personality); and Vinstad v. State Bd. of Cont., 169 Minn. 264, 266, 211 N.W. 12, 13 (1926) (holding that the constitutional right to trial by jury does not exist in guardianship proceedings).

            As an intermediate appellate court, this court is “not in [a] position to overturn established supreme court precedent.”  State v. Ward, 580 N.W.2d 67, 74 (Minn. App. 1998); see also Joelson v. O’Keefe, 594 N.W.2d 905, 910 (Minn. App. 1999) (following the Pearson decision), review denied (Minn. July 28, 1999).  Accordingly, we decline to reexamine this issue.

B. United States Constitution

            Appellant next argues that he is entitled to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.  But the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in civil proceedings does not apply to the states.  See City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 719, 119 S. Ct. 1624, 1643 (1999) (stating that it is settled law that the Seventh Amendment does not apply to suits brought in state court); Genzel v. Halvorson, 248 Minn. 527, 531, 80 N.W.2d 854, 857–58 (1957) (stating that the Seventh Amendment does not apply to the states); see also United States v. Sahhar, 917 F.2d 1197, 1206–07 (9th Cir. 1990) (rejecting a claim that due process provides the right to a jury trial in civil commitment proceedings).  Moreover, in Poole v. Goodno, 335 F.3d 705, 710–11 (8th Cir. 2003), the Eighth Circuit held that federal due process does not require a jury trial before a person is committed as an SDP under Minnesota law. 

            Relying on this precedent, this court has reiterated in a number of recent opinions that there is no federal constitutional right to a jury trial in civil commitment proceedings.  See, e.g., Joelson, 594 N.W.2d at 910; In re Larsen, No. A03-1410 (Minn. App. May 11, 2004); McDeid v. Mooney, No. A04-36 (Minn. App. Apr. 6, 2004); see also Brown v. Anderson, No. A03-744 (Minn. App. Dec. 9, 2003), review denied (Minn. Feb 17, 2004).  We see no reason to depart from these recent decisions here.

            Appellant also attempts to analogize the Supreme Court’s decisions in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000), and Blakely v. Washington, 124 S. Ct. 2531 (2004), to this case.  But Apprendi and Blakely apply in the context of criminal prosecutions and are, therefore, not applicable to Minnesota’s civil commitment law.  See, e.g., Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605, 610 n.3, 87 S. Ct. 1209, 1212 n.3 (1967) (stating that Minnesota’s sexual-psychopath-commitment statute “was not criminal in nature, and was not triggered by a criminal conviction”).  Accordingly, we reject appellant’s federal constitutional challenges to his commitment. 


            Appellant next argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to withdraw the stipulation for commitment.  The supreme court has held that a stipulation “cannot ordinarily be repudiated or withdrawn from by one party without the consent of the other, except by leave of the court for cause shown.”  Gran v. City of St. Paul, 274 Minn. 220, 223, 143 N.W.2d 246, 249 (1966).  And “[t]he matter of vacating a stipulation rests largely in the discretion of the trial court, and its action will not be reversed absent a showing that the court acted so arbitrarily as to constitute an abuse of that discretion.”  Anderson v. Anderson, 303 Minn. 26, 32, 225 N.W.2d 837, 840 (1975).  A stipulation may be vacated if it was improvidently made and ought not to stand in equity and good conscience.  John v. John, 322 N.W.2d 347, 348 (Minn. 1982).  Stipulations based on fraud or duress and which prejudice or defraud the coerced party are improvidently made.  Toughill v. Toughill, 609 N.W.2d 634, 639 (Minn. App. 2000).

The district court, in its July 19, 2004 order denying appellant’s motion to withdraw the stipulation, found that “the language of the stipulation makes clear as do [appellant’s] own words at the time the stipulation was entered and in his motion for withdrawal, that he was not confused about the legal consequences of signing the stipulation.”  The record supports this finding.   

Appellant claims that he did not voluntarily and intelligently waive his right to a trial when he entered the stipulation for commitment.  But, as the district court pointed out in its July 19, 2004 order, this claim is belied by the record.  At his January 8, 2004 commitment hearing, appellant stipulated to his commitment.  The following excerpts from the transcript support the district court’s finding that appellant entered into the stipulation with full knowledge of its consequences:

[The Court]:  I ask you then, Mr. Sargent . . . do you admit that you are a sexually dangerous person – a psychopathic personality under the definition of the laws of the State of Minnesota subject to your appeal rights being reserved on this matter, do you admit that and that you are in need of treatment?


[Appellant]:  Yes, sir, I admit that.


. . . .


[Appellant’s attorney]:  You do not have any kind of mental disorder that makes it impossible or makes you unable to make an informed decision as to what you’ve done here this morning?


[Appellant]:  No, I do not.


[Appellant’s attorney]:  Okay.  So you fully understand the nature of these proceedings and the contents of the petition that support the finding of civil commitment in this matter?


[Appellant]:  Yes, I do.


. . . .


[Appellant’s attorney]:  I have told you and you understand by stipulation to the proving of the petition for commitment that you’re not going to be discharged unless such time it appears to the satisfaction of the Commissioner of Human Services after a hearing and a favorable recommendation of the special review board, that at that point in time that you could make an acceptable adjustment to open society, that there is a process, if you will, that gives you the opportunity to afford yourself treatment, to afford yourself the opportunity to change and modify your behavior with the hopes that you could become not subject to a civil commitment.  Do you understand that?


[Appellant]:  Yes, I do.    


            Further, the written stipulation, each page of which bears appellant’s signature, states:

6.         I understand the nature of the Petition in this matter.


7.         Specifically, I understand that the Petition seeks my indeterminate commitment as a “sexually dangerous person” as defined in Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 18c (2002) and a “sexual psychopathic personality” as defined in Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 18b (2002).


8.         I am represented by an attorney [ . . . . ]


            a.         I believe that I have had sufficient time to

discuss my case with my attorney.


b.         I am satisfied that my attorney is fully informed

as to the facts of this case.


c.         My attorney has discussed possible defenses to

the Petition that I might have.  I understand these possible defenses and how they could affect the outcome of this proceeding.


d.         I am satisfied that my attorney has represented

all of my interests and has fully advised me.


9.         I do not have a mental disorder which interferes with my ability to make a fully informed decision with regard to entering into a stipulation in this case.  As a result, I fully understand the nature of these proceedings and the contents of the Petition.


Thus, the record supports the district court’s finding that appellant knowingly and voluntarily entered into the stipulation on January 8, 2004.  Appellant argues that this issue should be analyzed as if he were attempting to withdraw a plea in a criminal proceeding.  But, as noted above, the Minnesota Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court have held that commitment proceedings such as this are civil in nature.  Accordingly, the district court did not abuse its discretion by applying civil standards to appellant’s motion to withdraw the stipulation, nor did it abuse its discretion in denying the motion.


            Appellant’s final argument is that the district court should have considered less-restrictive alternatives than indeterminate commitment given the effect of the governor’s recent executive order prohibiting the administrative release of any patients from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) unless required by law or ordered by a court.  See Exec. Order No. 03-10, 28 Minn. Reg. 57 (July 21, 2003).  But appellant claims that the governor’s executive order prohibits the release of any person under sexual civil commitment.

            In support of his argument that the district court should have considered less-restrictive alternatives, appellant cites Minn. Stat. § 253B.185, subd. 1 (2002), which provides that “[i]n commitments under this section, the court shall commit the patient to a secure treatment facility unless the patient establishes by clear and convincing evidence that a less restrictive treatment program is available that is consistent with the patient’s treatment needs and the requirements of public safety.”  (Emphasis added.)  The plain language of the statute provides that appellant had the burden to show that a less-restrictive program was available.  Nevertheless, appellant argues that “the State should have had this burden shifted to them,” but provides no legal basis for this assertion.  See State v. Modern Recycling, Inc., 558 N.W.2d 770, 772 (Minn. App. 1997) (stating assignment of error in brief based on mere assertion and not supported by argument or authority is waived unless prejudicial error is obvious on mere inspection).  Moreover, under the current statute, “patients have the opportunity to prove that a less-restrictive treatment program is available, but they do not have the right to be assigned to it.”  In re Kindschy, 634 N.W.2d 723, 731 (Minn. App. 2001).  We see no plain error, and appellant’s stipulation for commitment demonstrates that he did not seize the opportunity to argue for a less-restrictive treatment program at the time of his commitment. 

Appellant’s due-process and equal-protection arguments regarding the governor’s executive order are also without merit.  Contrary to appellant’s claim, the executive order does not state that no patient in the MSOP system may be released.  It states that no patient may be released unless the release is required under the law or ordered by a court.  In addition, this court has also denied a number of similar challenges to civil commitments in reliance on the supreme court’s holding in In re Blodgett, which rejected the argument that civil commitment is for punitive purposes.  510 N.W.2d 910, 916 (1994).  Finally, this court has found it premature to address the constitutionality of the governor’s executive order when a person who has been committed has not yet requested discharge from MSOP through the statutory procedures.  See Nordvick v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 610 N.W.2d 659, 663 (Minn. App. 2000) (rejecting a constitutional challenge to a statute where the appellant did not show “direct and personal harm” resulting from the statute).  Accordingly, we reject appellant’s arguments regarding the governor’s executive order.