This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the
Welfare of: A.J.B., Child.
Filed January 3, 2006
Ramsey County District Court
Master File No. J100550601
Mike Hatch, Attorney General,
Diane M. Dodd, Special Assistant
Public Defender, Neighborhood Justice Center, Inc.,
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal from a delinquency adjudication, in which the district court granted appellant’s motion to suppress Spreigl evidence, appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a bifurcated proceeding and erred in concluding that contradictory evidence was sufficient to support the adjudication. We affirm.
J.L. testified that in the early afternoon she took a break from the snowball fight and went to stand near the landing at the back entrance of the building, something she did on a regular basis. While there, she encountered appellant, coming downstairs from his apartment to take out the garbage. When appellant returned from outside, J.L. held open the door for him. J.L. testified that when appellant came back inside he stood approximately one yard away, faced her, pulled down his pants, exposed his penis and, with a commanding tone of voice, told her to “suck his dick.”
Appellant admitted to going downstairs to take out the garbage but testified that he did not see J.L. Appellant testified that when he went back into the building through the front door, he saw J.L. sitting outside on the front steps with three other children. Appellant denied both the exposure and the lewd comment.
trial in August 2002, the district court found appellant guilty of
gross-misdemeanor indecent exposure and adjudicated him delinquent. On appeal, this court reversed and remanded,
concluding that the district court committed prejudicial error by admitting
evidence of prior bad acts—commonly referred to as Spreigl evidence—without clear and convincing proof of those acts. In re
Welfare of A.J.B., No. C1-02-2171, 2003 WL 22136236, at *6 (
Prior to the second trial, the state moved to admit the Spreigl evidence. Appellant opposed the motion and moved to bifurcate the proceedings, requesting that the district court assign one judge to hear the Spreigl motion and assign a different judge to sit as factfinder for appellant’s trial. The district court denied appellant’s bifurcation motion and conducted an evidentiary hearing concerning two prior instances wherein appellant allegedly exposed himself to J.L. The district court found the Spreigl evidence uncorroborated and inadmissible, then presided over the second trial and found appellant guilty of gross-misdemeanor indecent exposure. Appellant was adjudicated delinquent. This appeal follows.
Appellant argues that his due process right to a fair trial was compromised because the trier of fact had knowledge of inadmissible Spreigl evidence due to the refusal to bifurcate the Spreigl evidentiary hearing from the trial on the merits.
Whether a person has been deprived
of due process is a legal question which we review de novo. State v.
Dorsey, 701 N.W.2d 238, 249 (
When the same judge is assigned to determine the admissibility of evidence in a suppression hearing and the guilt of the juvenile in the same proceeding, the juvenile’s basic right to a fair trial by an impartial tribunal with a determination of guilt based on admissible evidence may be compromised. E.g., In re J.P.L., 359 N.W.2d 622 (Minn. Ct. App. 1984).
In 1970, the Minnesota Supreme Court,
while encouraging trial courts to hold separate pretrial hearings when
determining the propriety of identification testimony, held that separate
pretrial hearings were not mandatory in a juvenile proceeding even though the
district court judge also serves as the factfinder at trial. In re
Welfare of Spencer, 288
appellant encourages this court to expand dicta from In re Welfare of J.P.L. to require the bifurcation of juvenile
court proceedings whenever a judge rules that any evidence is inadmissible at
trial. We decline to do so. Appellant’s argument has merit, but it is not
the role of the court of appeals to extend, or overrule, existing law. Tereault
v. Palmer, 413 N.W.2d 283, 286 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Dec. 18, 1987). We leave that to the supreme court or the
Moreover, as the district court aptly noted, judges are routinely relied on to make evidentiary rulings and, when the evidence is suppressed, not to consider it when deciding the case. There is a presumption that judges are capable of setting aside knowledge of inadmissible evidence and will consider only the evidence admitted when they are serving as the factfinder. Dorsey, 701 N.W.2d at 247. Additionally, Canon 3D(1) of the Minnesota Code of Judicial Conduct requires recusal from a case when the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
In determining not to bifurcate the evidentiary hearing from the trial, the district court, following a March 2004 order from its chief judge, reasoned that the mere knowledge of inadmissible Spreigl evidence did not reasonably call into question a judge’s impartiality to preside over a case. Based on the record, we cannot conclude that the juvenile court’s decision to rule on the admissibility of Spreigl evidence and then make the determination of guilt was an abuse of the district court’s discretion.
Appellant argues that the district court erred in finding the evidence sufficient to sustain a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, we conduct a careful review of
the record to determine whether the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable
to the decision, was sufficient to permit the factfinder to reach the decision
it made. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (
For a person to be found guilty of gross-misdemeanor indecent exposure, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person willfully and lewdly exposed the person’s body, or private parts, in the presence of a minor under the age of 16. Minn. Stat. § 617.23, subd. 2(1) (2000).
The victim, J.L., testified repeatedly and consistently that appellant pulled down his pants, exposed his penis to her, and told her to “suck his dick.” That evidence was corroborated by several other persons who testified that J.L. told them of the incident. At the time of the incident, J.L. was a minor under the age of 16. If believed, J.L.’s corroborated testimony supports a factfinder’s determination of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Appellant argues that due to inconsistencies in J.L.’s testimony regarding (1) the exact location of the incident, (2) the exact point in time when the exposure occurred, and (3) which of her two sisters J.L. first reported the incident to, her testimony cannot support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
court shows great deference to a factfinder’s determination of witness
credibility. State v. Dickerson, 481 N.W.2d 840, 843 (
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the determination, the district court did not err in finding that appellant was guilty of gross-misdemeanor indecent exposure.
 The inclusion and amendment of advisory committee
comments “is made for convenience and does not reflect court approval of the
comments made therein.”