This opinion will be unpublished and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: S.J.W.


Filed February 28, 2006


Shumaker, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. J5-04-063518




Leonardo Castro, Chief Fourth District Public Defender, Peter W. Gorman, Assistant Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant S.J.W.)


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


Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda K. Jenny, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent State of Minnesota)


            Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Shumaker, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant, a juvenile, challenges the district court’s order certifying him as an adult for the trial of a second-degree murder charge against him.  He claims that the court erred by failing to dismiss the charge for lack of probable cause and by ruling that public safety would not be served if the matter were to be retained in the juvenile court system.  Because the district court did not err in its rulings, we affirm.


On August 27, 2004, 15-year-old S.J.W. and two juvenile companions noticed a man near a bus stop in Minneapolis and they discussed robbing him.  After his companions declined to do so, S.J.W. admits that he then ran after the man, punched him in the face, and knocked him into the street.  He admits that he then took money from the man’s pockets and returned to his waiting companions.  The three juveniles boarded a bus and left the scene.  Although S.J.W. admits only to punching the victim once and contends that the victim then fell down, a witness claimed that S.J.W. carried the victim over his shoulders and dropped him into the street.

When paramedics arrived at the scene, they found the victim, a 61-year-old man, bleeding from the back of his head and vomiting.  He later died at the hospital, and an autopsy revealed a bruise on his jaw, multiple bruises on his back, four broken ribs, a skull fracture, and fractures of the hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage.

The state charged S.J.W. by juvenile delinquency petition with unintentional second-degree felony murder and moved for adult certification.  S.J.W. moved to dismiss the matter for lack of probable cause.  The district court denied the motion and, after an evidentiary hearing, ordered that S.J.W. be certified to be tried as an adult.  S.J.W. appealed.



1.                  Probable Cause Determination

The state charged S.J.W. with unintentional felony murder under Minn. Stat. § 609.19, subd. 2(1) (2004).  The predicate offense the state alleged was simple robbery.  Minn. Stat. § 609.24 (2004).  Simple robbery occurs when a person uses force to take another’s personal property from him without his consent.  Id.  An unintentional killing that occurs during a simple robbery can constitute felony murder.  State v. Back, 341 N.W.2d 273, 276-77 (Minn. 1983).

The probable cause inquiry asks whether there is reason to believe that a particular crime has been committed and that the accused committed that crime.  State v. Florence, 306 Minn. 442, 239 N.W.2d 892 (1976).  For a felony murder charge to survive a probable cause challenge, there must be some showing of a direct causal relationship between the predicate felony and the victim’s death.  State v. Branson, 487 N.W.2d 880, 881 (Minn. 1992).  An appellate court will not overturn the district court’s probable cause ruling unless its findings are clearly erroneous.  In re Welfare of E.Y.W., 496 N.W.2d 847, 850 (Minn. App. 1993).

S.J.W. argues that the only facts before the district court were his admission that he “punched the victim one time and that the victim either fell to the ground or was thrown to the ground.”  He contends that no evidence shows that he did anything to inflict the severe multiple injuries that the victim sustained or that his conduct caused the victim’s death.  Causation does not have to be established by direct evidence but may rest upon a reasonable inference to be drawn from circumstantial evidence.  State v. Gillam, 629 N.W.2d 440, 453 (Minn. 2001).  There is direct evidence that S.J.W. struck the victim hard enough to cause him to fall onto the street.  And there is direct evidence that the victim sustained a jaw injury and a skull fracture.  It is a reasonable inference that S.J.W.’s conduct caused both injuries.  Even though S.J.W. denies inflicting the rest of the severe multiple injuries, a trier of fact need not believe that denial and may plausibly infer from the circumstances, coupled with the direct evidence, that S.J.W. did far more than he has admitted.  As the district court held, there is sufficient evidence to satisfy the probable cause standard and “the issue of whether a causal connection exists between the blow allegedly inflicted upon the victim and the victim’s ultimate death is an issue of fact for the jury.”  The district court did not err in finding probable cause that S.J.W. committed the felony-murder with which he is charged.

2.         Certification

            The district court granted the state’s motion to refer S.J.W. for adult prosecution on a felony-murder charge because the clear and convincing evidence shows that retention of S.J.W. in the juvenile system would not serve public safety.  S.J.W. contends that the court’s conclusion was erroneous.

            For purposes of a petition to certify a juvenile to stand trial as an adult, the district court must presume the juvenile guilty of the crime charged.  In re Welfare of J.L.B., 435 N.W.2d 595, 598 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Mar. 17, 1989).  The court must then consider whether various statutory criteria for certification can be satisfied by the evidence.  See Minn. Stat. § 260B.125, subd. 4 (2004).  An appellate court reviews the district court’s certification order for an abuse of discretion.  In re Welfare of H.S.H., 609 N.W.2d 259, 261 (Minn. App. 2000).  The order will not be reversed unless the district court’s findings and conclusions are “clearly erroneous so as to constitute an abuse of discretion.”  In re Welfare of S.J.G., 547 N.W.2d 456, 459 (Minn. App. 1996) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Aug. 6, 1996).

            There are six statutory criteria pertaining to the charged offense, the juvenile’s participation in the offense, and the juvenile’s background that the court must consider in determining the propriety of certification:

(1) the seriousness of the alleged offense in terms of community protection, including the existence of any aggravating factors recognized by the sentencing guidelines, the use of a firearm, and the impact on any victim;

(2) the culpability of the child in committing the alleged offense, including the level of the child’s participation in planning and carrying out the offense and the existence of any mitigating factors recognized by the sentencing guidelines;

(3) the child’s prior record of delinquency;

(4) the child’s programming history, including the child’s past willingness to participate meaningfully in available programming;

(5) the adequacy of the punishment or programming available in the juvenile justice system; and

(6) the dispositional options available for the child.


Minn. Stat. § 260B.125, subd. 4(1)-(6).  Greater weight is given to the seriousness of the alleged offense and the child’s prior record of delinquency than to the other statutory factors.  Id., subd. 4.

            The district court found that five of the criteria weighed in favor of certification while one was neutral.  S.J.W. contends that the court’s findings were erroneous.



            a.         Seriousness of Alleged Offense

The district court did not abuse its discretion by determining that “the seriousness of the alleged offense in terms of community protection” weighs heavily in favor of certification.  The court stated that “this exact type of crime is of the type that public safety is most concerned about, a random act of violence against an individual which resulted in the death of that individual.”  Violent crimes against persons, such as murder or assault, are often the basis for adult certification of juveniles.  H.S.H., 609 N.W.2d at 262; In re Welfare of D.T.H., 572 N.W.2d 742 (Minn. App. 1997) (juvenile certified on first- and second-degree murder charges), review denied (Minn. Feb. 19, 1988).  S.J.W.’s admission and the victim’s vulnerability in that he was 61-years old and “very slight in stature” support the court’s conclusion.  S.J.W. argues that this is “not the most serious charge that could ever be laid against a person,” and that no weapon was used in the commission of the crime.  However, these factors are not required for certification, and the end result of the crime is definitively the most serious result of any crime.

b.         Culpability

The district court also found that S.J.W. “was fully culpable in his actions and that no mitigating factors are present.”  In assessing culpability, the court looks to the child’s level of planning and participation in the offense.  D.T.H., 572 N.W.2d at 744.

S.J.W. contends that he lacked culpability because of his age of 15 years, claiming that he does not think, plan, or act like an adult.  However, chronological age is not conclusive, and caselaw shows that in appropriate instances certification of 15-year-olds is allowed.  Id.; see also S.J.G., 547 N.W.2d 456.  In support of its conclusion, the district court points to the undisputed findings that (a) S.J.W. discussed robbing the victim with his friends, (b) proceeded with the robbery although his friends chose not to participate, and (c) assaulted the victim without being provoked.  This court has previously determined that a high level of culpability exists when a juvenile is a primary participant in the offense.  St. Louis County v. S.D.S., 610 N.W.2d 644, 648 (Minn. App. 2000).  Not only was S.J.W. the primary participant but he was the only participant in the crime after his companions declined involvement.

c.         Prior Record of Delinquency

S.J.W. contends that the district court exaggerated his prior record of delinquency.  Citing H.S.H., 609 N.W.2d at 263, for the proposition that the prior delinquency record “must show deeply ingrained, escalating criminal behavior that presents a threat to public safety[,]” he argues that his certification was an error.  In H.S.H., the court determined that certification was inappropriate where the juvenile’s current offense was check forgery because she had only one prior felony and showed “honest and sincere” improvements in her life and decision making.  Id. at 261.  Unlike H.S.H., S.J.W.’s prior history is “quite extensive for a person of such a young age” and reveals escalating criminal behavior, as determined by the district court.  The court pointed to findings of S.J.W.’s antisocial and assaultive behavior starting as early as second and third grade.  His prior record includes admissions of three felonies, one gross misdemeanor, and two misdemeanor offenses, numerous probation violations, noncompliance with house rules while at home, a pattern of lying, being a “menace to the community,” verbal abuse, physical threats, and aggressive behavior.  Additionally, S.J.W. was not allowed to return to Bar-None, a juvenile facility, except in the locked treatment program because of the fear that he would victimize others in the program and the community.  The court did not abuse its discretion in finding that this criterion weighed in favor of certification.

d.         Programming History

Noting S.J.W.’s extensive programming history in the juvenile justice system, including four out-of-home placements, the district court concluded that S.J.W. has demonstrated an unwillingness to participate meaningfully in programming, that he is adept at manipulating the system, and that “it is clear from his on-going behavior that he has never internalized any of the programming or had any desire to change his behavior.”  Rejection of treatment efforts indicates a juvenile’s unwillingness to submit meaningfully to programming.  In re Matter of I.Q.S., 309 Minn. 78, 91, 244 N.W.2d 30, 40 (1976).

Although S.J.W. argues that past programming has not been appropriate for him because he has mental deficiencies and psychological problems, the evidence shows that S.J.W. is able to control his behavior when he chooses or when his own interests are served and that his problems are not of sufficient severity to prevent his meaningful participation in programs, including those that have been offered repeatedly to him.  The evidence also shows that S.J.W.’s periods of courteous and cooperative behavior and positive attitude have always been followed by incidents of outbursts, violence, and setbacks in progress, especially in response to authority.

e.         Adequacy of Punishment

The court found that the programs available to S.J.W. in the juvenile system are “not significantly different from the programming [S.J.W.] did not engage in previously . . . ,” and that, considering that S.J.W. would be in the juvenile system for only five years, punishment would not be adequate.  Nevertheless, the court found that this criterion was neutral regarding certification.  This was not an abuse of discretion, although the district court could have justifiably concluded that the adequacy of punishment for murder available in the juvenile system weighs against S.J.W.

f.          Dispositional Options

The final factor the district court considered, and found weighed in favor of certification, was the dispositional options available to appellant.  Minn. Stat. § 260B.125, subd. 4(6).  The court determined that although there are several dispositional options available in the juvenile system, none of them would best serve public safety.  Instead, the district court determined that appellant needs long-term, intensive placement.  Its determination was based on finding that appellant failed to show amenability to residential treatments in the past, and that at the time of trial he did not indicate that he was more resolute to change his behavior than he had been in the past.   

Careful review of the record reveals that the district court did not abuse its discretion in ordering certification.