This opinion will be unpublished and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

Welfare of:  A.J.B., Child.


Filed January 3, 2006


Hudson, Judge


Ramsey County District Court

Master File No. J100550601

Petition:  J5-02-552632


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


Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Jill E. Fedje, Assistant County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 315, St. Paul, Minnesota 55102-1657 (for respondent State)


Diane M. Dodd, Special Assistant Public Defender, Neighborhood Justice Center, Inc., 500 Laurel Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota 55102 (for appellant Child)


            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. 



            Appellant A.J.B. (then twelve years old) and the complainant in this matter, J.L. (then fourteen years old), lived in the same apartment building in St. Paul.  J.L. and appellant knew each other because J.L. was friends with appellant’s sister.  Both parties admit that on March 16, 2002, they and other children were involved in a snowball fight.  J.L. and some other children were outside and were throwing snowballs at appellant, who was at the window of his second-floor apartment.  Appellant was collecting the snow thrown at him and tossing it back at the children below.

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.

After 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 (Minn. App. Sept. 16, 2003).

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 (Minn. 2005).  The district court has broad discretion in deciding whether to bifurcate proceedings, and this court will not disturb its ruling absent an abuse of that discretion.  McQuire v. C&L Restaurant, Inc., 346 N.W.2d 605, 614 (Minn. 1984). 

            Minn. R. Juv. Delinq. P. 12, governing evidentiary hearings in juvenile delinquency hearings, states that “[w]here new information, evidence or issues arise during trial, the court may consider these issues at trial.  Any issue not determined prior to trial shall be determined as part of the trial.”  The comment to rule 12—which is advisory in nature[1]—states,

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).


Minn. R. Juv. Delinq. P. cmt.  Plainly, this comment warns juvenile court judges of the potential adverse impact that knowledge gained from evidentiary rulings could have on a juvenile’s due process right to a fair trial.  But the rule does not mandate the bifurcation of evidentiary hearings from a determination of guilt.

            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 Minn. 119, 123, 179 N.W.2d 95, 97–98 (1970).  In 1984, however, this court criticized the rules governing juvenile proceedings, noting that the better procedure in juvenile cases would be to have the hearing regarding suppression of evidence separately, before trial.  In re Welfare of J.P.L., 359 N.W.2d 622, 625 (Minn. App. 1984).  But even in that case, we recognized that the procedural rule in juvenile proceedings did not require bifurcation, and we affirmed the district court’s decision.  Id. (citing Spencer, 288 Minn. 119, 179 N.W.2d 95).  Minn. R. Juv. Delinq. P. 12 has not changed. 

Nevertheless, 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 legislature.  Id. 

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.

In 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 (Minn. 1989).  This court assumes that the factfinder believed the evidence supporting the state’s theory of the case and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary.  State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989).  A reviewing court will not disturb the verdict if the factfinder, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude that the juvenile committed the offense charged.  State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988).  To warrant reversal, the district court’s findings must be clearly erroneous or “manifestly contrary to the weight of the evidence or not reasonably supported by the evidence as a whole.”  Rogers v. Moore, 603 N.W.2d 650, 656 (Minn. 1999) (quotation omitted).

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.

This court shows great deference to a factfinder’s determination of witness credibility.  State v. Dickerson, 481 N.W.2d 840, 843 (Minn. 1992), aff’d, 508 U.S. 366, 113 S. Ct. 2130 (1993).  In this case, the district court, as the factfinder, gave considerable weight to J.L.’s testimony.  Acknowledging the inconsistencies in J.L.’s testimony, the district court nevertheless found that she was both consistent and credible as to the material facts—the overall sequence of events and her description of appellant’s willful and lewd exposure of his genitals in her presence.  The district court discounted the inconsistencies in J.L.’s recollection as insignificant and attributable to the two years that had elapsed between the incident and the second trial.  Further, the district court did not find appellant’s version of the events to be credible.

            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.


[1] The inclusion and amendment of advisory committee comments “is made for convenience and does not reflect court approval of the comments made therein.”  Minnesota Supreme Court Order Promulgating Amendments to the Rules of Criminal Procedure (Dec. 13, 1989).  See also State v. Pero, 590 N.W.2d 319, 326 (Minn. 1999) (noting that advisory comments to the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure are not binding, but provide guidance which courts may follow).