This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).







In the Matter of the Welfare of:
A. R. J., Child.


Filed June 19, 2007


Wright, Judge


Swift County District Court

File No. 76-JV-06-83



John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Leslie J. Rosenberg, Assistant State Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN  55414 (for appellant A.R.J.)


Lori Swanson, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN  55101; and


Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Thomas A. Weist, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN  55487 (for respondent state)


            Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Minge, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N



In this juvenile-delinquency proceeding, appellant challenges her delinquency adjudication for third-degree assault, arguing that there is insufficient evidence to support the findings of delinquency.  Appellant also argues that the district court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of prior bad acts and violated appellant’s right to due process by failing to make particularized written findings.  We affirm.


On January 10, 2006, J.W., a resident of the Heartland Girls Ranch, was pushed while taking a shower.  As a result of the push, she fell and lost consciousness.  Following an investigation, A.R.J., a juvenile, was charged with third-degree assault, a violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.223, subd. 1 (2004).

At trial, residential counselor Cassie Kraft testified that, at about 5:45 p.m., she walked through each wing of the building to inform the residents that it was dinnertime.  As Kraft passed the bathroom area, she heard J.W. singing in the shower, and she saw A.R.J. standing in front of the mirror, which was approximately six feet from the shower.  No one else was present in the bathroom.  At that time, all the residents other than J.W. were in the dining hall, and Kraft joined them.  According to Kraft, she would have known if someone left the dining area to go to the bathroom.

Shortly thereafter, when Kraft returned to the bathroom, she could no longer hear J.W. singing.  Kraft knocked on the bathroom door.  There was no response from inside.  Because she was concerned about J.W., Kraft and a coworker went to the bathroom and found J.W. lying unconscious on her stomach in the bathtub.  The lights were out, and the shower was still running.

            J.W. testified that, approximately five minutes before the lights went out, she heard A.R.J. talking outside the bathroom.  When J.W. was getting out of the shower to see why the lights had gone out, she was pushed back.  After regaining her balance, J.W. turned around and was pushed forward, causing her to fall. 

Several witnesses testified that A.R.J. and J.W. did not get along.  A.R.J. occasionally would walk past J.W. and “bump into [her].”  J.W. testified that she and A.R.J. had argued the evening before and the morning of the assault.  This testimony was corroborated by Kraft and another staff member. 

A.R.J. admitted being in the hallway near the bathroom when Kraft walked by but  maintained that she did not hear any singing.  She also denied pushing J.W. in the shower.  Although A.R.J. admitted that she and J.W. had not been “getting along lately,” A.R.J. denied arguing with J.W. on the morning of the assault and bumping into J.W.

At the conclusion of the trial, the district court found that the charge of third-degree assault had been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  In a written order, the district court adjudicated A.R.J. delinquent and remanded the matter to Hennepin County for imposition of the disposition.  This appeal followed.



Allegations in a delinquency petition “must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Minn. R. Juv. Delinq. P. 13.06.  When we review a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence to support an adjudication of delinquency, we are “limited to ascertaining whether, given the facts and legitimate inferences, a factfinder could reasonably make that determination.”  In re Welfare of S.M.J., 556 N.W.2d 4, 6 (Minn. App. 1996) (citing State v. Merrill, 274 N.W.2d 99, 111 (Minn. 1978)).  In doing so, we “view the record in the light most favorable to the determination and assume that the factfinder believed the testimony supporting the determination and disbelieved any contrary evidence.”  Id.

“Circumstantial evidence is given the same weight as any other evidence as long as the circumstances proved are consistent with the hypothesis that the accused is guilty and inconsistent with any rational hypothesis except that of guilt.”  State v. Pirsig, 670 N.W.2d 610, 614 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Jan. 20, 2004).  To successfully challenge an adjudication based solely on circumstantial evidence, an appellant must establish the existence of evidence in the record that is consistent with a rational theory other than that the juvenile committed the offense.  Id.  The possibility of innocence does not require reversal if the evidence taken as a whole makes such theories unreasonable.  State v. Ostrem, 535 N.W.2d 916, 923 (Minn. 1995).  Therefore, we will not disturb the findings if the fact-finder, giving due regard to the presumption of innocence and the state’s burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, reasonably could find that the juvenile committed the charged offense.  C.f. State v. Thomas, 590 N.W.2d 755, 757-58 (Minn. 1999) (reviewing criminal conviction). 

It is well-settled that, because the fact-finder enjoys the unique opportunity to observe the witnesses and hear their testimony, assessing witness credibility and the weight to be accorded testimonial evidence is the exclusive province of the fact-finder.  State v. Folkers, 581 N.W.2d 321, 327 (Minn. 1998).  In doing so, the fact-finder “is free to accept some aspects of a witness’s testimony and reject others.”  State v. Wright, 679 N.W.2d 186, 190 (Minn. App. 2004), review denied (Minn. June 29, 2004).  The fact-finder also is free to believe the victim’s testimony even when it differs sharply from that of the accused.  State v. Folley, 378 N.W.2d 21, 26 (Minn. App. 1985).  We, therefore, assume the fact-finder believed the witnesses supporting a delinquency determination and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary.  State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989).

Third-degree assault is committed when a person intentionally inflicts substantial bodily harm on another.  Minn. Stat. §§ 609.02, subd. 10(2), .223, subd. 1 (2004).  A.R.J. argues that there is insufficient evidence to prove that she committed third-degree assault because several alternative hypotheses are consistent with the circumstances proved.  But a review of the evidence demonstrates that the circumstantial evidence that A.R.J. committed the offense is strong and “inconsistent with any rational hypothesis except that of guilt.”  Pirsig, 670 N.W.2d at 614 (emphasis added).  J.W. was singing in the shower when someone turned out the lights and pushed her twice.  As a result of the second push, J.W. fell and lost consciousness.  Shortly before the assault, J.W. heard A.R.J.’s voice and Kraft saw A.R.J. standing a few feet from the shower.  Kraft could account for the whereabouts of all other residents at that time.  A.R.J. and J.W. did not get along; and when other residents were upset and expressed concern for J.W. after the assault, A.R.J. was calm and said that she was “fine.”  Based on the evidence presented, the fact-finder reasonably could find that A.R.J. pushed J.W. and caused her to fall in the shower.

A.R.J. argues that the evidence also is insufficient to establish that J.W. suffered substantial bodily harm.  But temporary unconsciousness constitutes substantial bodily harm for the offense of third-degree assault.  State v. Larkin, 620 N.W.2d 335, 337 (Minn. App. 2001).  A.R.J.’s assertion that J.W. may have feigned unconsciousness out of fear of her attacker is without evidentiary support.   

A.R.J. also argues that she did not intend to physically assault J.W. because she was not provoked.  But when reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we must assume that the fact-finder credited J.W.’s testimony that someone turned off the lights, pushed her twice, and left her unconscious in the shower, actions that are inconsistent with an accident or a mistake.  Moreover, J.W. and other witnesses testified as to the motive and intent for the assault—A.R.J. and J.W. had engaged in oral altercations and were not getting along with each other before the assault.

A.R.J. also hypothesizes that, given the gaps and irregularities in J.W.’s testimony regarding the attack, J.W. may have fabricated the story, may have been mistaken about being pushed, or may have been pushed by another resident.  But these theories do not take into account J.W.’s testimony and the district court’s discretion to believe her account of the events even when it differed sharply from A.R.J.’s.  Folley, 378 N.W.2d at 26. 

J.W. testified that she heard A.R.J.’s voice approximately five minutes before the lights were turned off in the bathroom.  When she was getting out of the shower to see why the lights went out, she “got pushed back.”  J.W. held the bar in the shower to regain her balance, was “pushed forward again,” and fell.  A.R.J. contends that, because J.W. testified that she “got pushed,” rather than “someone pushed her,” a rational hypothesis supports the conclusion that J.W. stepped on the shower curtain, causing it to be drawn so taut that J.W. bounced back as she pushed against it.  Similarly, A.R.J. relies on Kraft’s testimony that she “had heard [J.W.] singing in the shower” to assert that Kraft’s account about the timing of the assault is unconvincing.  But such strained interpretations of witness testimony are precisely the reason we defer to the fact-finder’s credibility determinations, which are based on the fact-finder’s unique opportunity to observe the witnesses’ demeanor while hearing their testimony.  D.L., 486 N.W.2d at 380. 

A.R.J. cites no record evidence supporting a rational hypothesis inconsistent with the district court’s finding that A.R.J. committed the charged offense.  Accordingly, when viewed in the light most favorable to the district court’s determination, the evidence is more than sufficient to sustain the adjudication of delinquency.



            A.R.J. also asserts that the district court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of other bad acts in violation of Minn. R. Evid. 404(b).  “Evidentiary rulings rest within the sound discretion of the [district] court and will not be reversed absent a clear abuse of discretion.”  State v. Amos, 658 N.W.2d 201, 203 (Minn. 2003).  The party challenging an evidentiary ruling on appeal has the burden of showing both that the district court abused its discretion and that the party was thereby prejudiced.  Id.     

Evidence of other bad acts is “not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith.”  Minn. R. Evid. 404(b).  Such evidence, however, may be admissible for other purposes, including to show “motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.”  Id.; see State v. Spreigl, 272 Minn. 488, 491, 139 N.W.2d 167, 169 (1965) (identifying exceptions to exclusionary rule). 

At issue is the testimony that (1) A.R.J. and J.W. were arguing on the day of the assault; (2) A.R.J. and J.W. were arguing on the night before the assault; and (3) A.R.J. “bumped into” J.W.  Because A.R.J. did not make a timely objection to this testimony, she waived the right to challenge its admission on appeal.  Minn. R. Evid. 103(a)(1) (stating that error in admitting evidence may not be predicated on ruling that admits evidence unless party’s substantial rights are affected and timely objection was made).  To overcome such a waiver, an appellant must show that the district court committed plain error by admitting the challenged testimony.  Minn. R. Crim. P. 31.02; State v. Griller, 583 N.W.2d 736, 740 (Minn. 1998).  Plain error exists when the district court commits an obvious error that affects the defendant’s substantial rights.  State v. Ihle, 640 N.W.2d 910, 917 (Minn. 2002).  A defendant’s substantial rights are affected if the error was “prejudicial and affected the outcome of the case.”  Id.

Here, the question is not whether the district court erred in admitting the evidence because the district court was not given the opportunity to make that decision.  State v. Vick, 632 N.W.2d 676, 685 (Minn. 2001).  Rather, the question is whether the district court’s failure to strike the testimony sua sponte constituted plain error.  Id.  Contrary to A.R.J.’s assertions, the testimony that A.R.J. and J.W. argued with one another does not refer to another bad act that would invoke the exclusionary rule in Minn. R. Evid. 404(b).  And although testimony regarding A.R.J. bumping J.W. arguably is a bad act under rule 404(b), any error resulting from its admission does not satisfy the plain-error standard, as it was not an error to admit this testimony to the extent that it is probative of A.R.J.’s intent, which is an element of the charged offense.  See State v. Ness, 707 N.W.2d 676, 687 (Minn. 2006) (“Other-acts evidence may help to prove the element of intent . . . .”).

Moreover, this testimony along with other admissible evidence establishes the relevant context for the assault.  See State v. Waukazo, 374 N.W.2d 563, 565 (Minn. App. 1985) (holding that evidence placing charged offense in proper context is admissible), review denied (Minn. Nov. 1, 1985).   A.R.J.’s argument, therefore, fails.[1]  



The rules governing juvenile-delinquency proceedings do not require particularized written findings when deciding to adjudicate delinquency.  Minn. R. Juv. Delinq. P. 13.09; In re Welfare of J.L.Y., 596 N.W.2d 692, 695 (Minn. App. 1999) (noting that particularized findings are required for disposition determination but not adjudication determination), review granted (Minn. Sept. 28, 1999) and order granting review vacated (Minn. Feb. 15, 2000).  Rule 13.09 provides in relevant part:

Within seven (7) days of the conclusion of the trial, the court shall find that the allegations in the charging document have or have not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  The order finding that the allegations of the charging document have been proved shall also state the child’s name and date of birth; and the date and county where the offense was committed. . . .  Findings may be made on the record, but must be followed up in writing within the seven (7) days.


Minn. R. Juv. Delinq. P. 13.09.  A.R.J. does not contend that the district court did not comply with rule 13.09.  Rather, A.R.J. argues that, because rule 13.09 does not require particularized written findings in a delinquency adjudication, compliance with this provision precludes meaningful appellate review and, therefore, violates the constitutional right to due process.[2]  See State v. Christie, 494 N.W.2d 492, 496 n.2 (Minn. App. 1993) (citing Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605, 610, 87 S. Ct. 1209, 1212 (1967) (“Due process . . . requires . . . findings adequate to make meaningful any appeal that is allowed.”)), aff’d, 506 N.W.2d 293 (Minn. 1993).

            To determine the constitutionality of rule 13.09, we consider (1) the individual and state interests implicated by the procedure, and (2) how sufficiently the procedure protects against erroneous and unnecessary deprivations of liberty.  Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335, 96 S. Ct. 893, 903 (1976). 

The individual interest at stake, A.R.J. argues, is the opportunity for meaningful appellate review of whether the evidence was sufficient to adjudicate delinquency.  In support of her argument, A.R.J. relies on the requirements for particularized written findings in an adult criminal bench trial, Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 2, and for a juvenile disposition, Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 1(m) (2004).  But these requirements are not grounded in the doctrine of constitutional due process.  Indeed, A.R.J.’s argument fails to consider the standard we employ to determine the sufficiency of the evidence to support an adjudication of juvenile delinquency.  This standard is the same for adult criminal trials with a jury, in which written findings of fact are not made, or without a jury, in which such findings are required. 

The purpose of written findings in the latter trial is to “aid the appellate court in its review of [a] conviction resulting from a nonjury trial.”  State v. Scarver, 458 N.W.2d 167, 168 (Minn. App. 1990).  But because we review the entire record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the district court’s decision, is sufficient to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt, S.M.J., 556 N.W.2d at 6, meaningful appellate review occurs even in the absence of particularized written findings.  Thus, although particularized written findings may aid appellate review, the procedure employed by the district court is sufficient to protect against an erroneous deprivation of liberty.  Accordingly, A.R.J.’s constitutional challenge fails.


[1] A.R.J. argues that her trial counsel’s failure to object to the admission of this evidence constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel.  To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, an appellant must show that her counsel’s performance was so deficient that it “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness,” and that “counsel’s error, whether or not professionally unreasonable, so prejudiced [appellant] at trial that a different outcome would have resulted but for the error.”  State v. Doppler, 590 N.W.2d 627, 633 (Minn. 1999) (quotation omitted).  Because it was not below an objective standard of reasonableness to fail to object to evidence that is admissible to prove intent and motive, A.R.J.’s argument is unavailing.


[2] A.R.J. raises this argument for the first time on appeal.  Ordinarily, we decline to address arguments that were neither presented to nor decided by the district court.  Roby v. State, 547 N.W.2d 354, 357 (Minn. 1996).  An exception may apply in the interests of justice to a constitutional issue, which the parties have had an adequate opportunity to brief and which was implied in the district court.  State v. Sorenson, 441 N.W.2d 455, 457 (Minn. 1989).