may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:,
Filed December 24, 1996
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Lyon County District Court
File No. JX-95-50310, J6-95-50360 & J9-95-50515
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Charlann Winking, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for Appellant J.H.N.)
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for Respondent)
Kathryn M. Keena, Lyon County Attorney, 607 West Main Street, Marshall, MN 56258 (for Respondent)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Huspeni, Judge, and Norton, Judge.
Appellant juvenile challenges a dispositional order committing him to the Minnesota Home School at Sauk Center, Minnesota, because the placement was not the least restrictive alternative necessary to restore him to law-abiding conduct and because the placement does not serve his best interests. The findings support the determination that the placement is the least restrictive alternative, but do not support the determination that the placement serves appellant's best interests. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.
Appellant argues that the district court committed reversible error because it failed to make adequate written findings in support of the disposition. Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 1 (1994), provides that a dispositional order "shall contain written findings of fact to support the disposition, * * * set forth * * * why the best interests of the child are served, * * * [and] * * * what alternative dispositions were considered * * * and why such dispositions were not appropriate." See also Minn. R. Juv. P 30.05 (imposing same finding requirement). "The failure to make the statutorily required findings constitutes reversible error." See M.A.C., 455 N.W.2d at 499 (failure to describe the type of treatment provided or how that treatment would help solve appellant's problems constitutes reversible error).
A. Least Restrictive Disposition
Appellant argues that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to order the least restrictive alternative needed to restore law-abiding behavior. Here the juvenile court's dispositional order refers to the probation agent's recommendations that appellant be committed to the Commissioner of Corrections for placement at the juvenile facility at Sauk Center. The court also refers to the agent's conclusion that placement in foster care or the boys ranch were not appropriate given appellant's prior history. The court agreed with juvenile probation that "commitment to the Commissioner of Corrections is the least restrictive alternative."
The juvenile court made the requisite findings as to its analysis of the least restrictive alternative under Minn. Stat. § 260.185. The court properly demonstrated in its findings what alternative dispositions were considered and explained why each alternative disposition is or is not appropriate. Therefore, the juvenile court's findings fall within the broad discretion allowed in juvenile delinquency dispositions. See M.A.C., 455 N.W.2d at 498.
B. Best Interests.
Appellant next contends that the disposition ordered does not serve his best interests. We agree. This court has repeatedly construed Minn. Stat. § 261.85 to require that a juvenile's disposition serve the juvenile's best interests. See, e.g., In re the Welfare of M.R.S., 400 N.W.2d 147, 151 (Minn. App. 1987); In re the Welfare of L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d 392, 399 (Minn. App. 1985) (both cases require dispositional findings that address the interests and needs of the child). Indeed, the disposition must be designed to effect the minor's rehabilitation. In re the Welfare of D.S.F., 416 N.W.2d 772, 774 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Feb. 17, 1988); Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 1 (ultimate goal is to create disposition that will rehabilitate offender). In determining the disposition, the court must balance the severity of both the act and the proposed disposition. In re the Welfare of J.A.J., 545 N.W.2d 412, 414 (Minn. App. 1996); M.A.C., 455 N.W.2d at 498. The disposition "must be necessary to achieve" rehabilitation. D.S.F., 416 N.W.2d at 774. It is reversible error to impose a disposition without evidence that is necessary to restore law-abiding conduct. L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d at 398.
In addition, an order for disposition must "set forth in writing * * * why the best interests of the child are served by the disposition ordered." Minn. Stat. § 260.185. subd. 1; Minn. R. Juv. P. 30.50. Where, as here, the court orders residential placement, the best interests standard adds at least two requirements: (1) "there must be evidence that the aims of the law cannot be realized without removal of the child from [his or] her home," and (2) "there must be evidence that the placement being considered is suitable for the needs of the child." L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d at 399-400.
The juvenile court's dispositional order states: "juvenile probation found and the court agrees that commitment to the Commissioner of Corrections is the least restrictive alternative and is in the best interests of [appellant] and of the community." The court provided no written explanation of this finding. This cursory statement regarding best interests does not comply with the letter or spirit of the statute. Appellant correctly notes that the evidence must "reveal the program of a facility and a competent assessment of the child's needs." J.A.J., 545 N.W.2d at 415; L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d at 400. The record here contains no evidence of an assessment of appellant's needs for chemical or psychological counseling, even though the corrections agent noted appellant's extensive chemical use and his problems with anger. Further, the record does not reveal any such programs available at Sauk Center.
Even though appellant's commitment to the Commissioner of Corrections was determined to be the least restrictive placement, albeit the only alternative that was presented to the court, written findings of fact addressing the best interests of the child are still required to support the disposition. M.R.S., 400 N.W.2d at 151; Minn. Stat. § 260.185. "Written findings are essential to enable meaningful appellate review." M.A.C., 455 N.W.2d at 499. We cannot determine from the record if the juvenile court considered the placement at Sauk Center in appellant's best interests, because the court failed to make the requisite findings.
Given that the disposition must be necessary to achieve appellant's rehabilitation, it was improper for the juvenile court to consider factors unrelated to the rehabilitative needs of the offender, such as to serve the best interests of the community. Id. (holding it improper to use a disposition to send a message). While the juvenile court mentioned appellant's best interests, it failed to reach what is required or appropriate for his rehabilitation. We remand for further findings and reconsideration of which disposition would be most appropriate to effect appellant's rehabilitation and serve his best interests.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.