This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat.§ 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




In the Matter of the Welfare of: J.L.M.

Filed September 2, 1997

Reversed and remanded

Holtan, Judge


Sherburne County District Court

File No. J9-96-50395

Stearns County District Court

File No. J0-95-51409

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, James Diamond, Special Assistant State Public Defender, Charlann Winking, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue S.E., Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant minor child)

Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)

Walter M. Kaminsky, Sherburne County Attorney, Dean E. Emmanuel, Assistant County Attorney, 13880 Highway 10, Elk River, MN 55330 (for respondent)

Roger S. Van Heel, Stearns County Attorney, 725 Courthouse Square, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.



Appellant J.L.M. challenges his out-of-home placement, arguing the district court's order was arbitrary because it was not the least restrictive means available, it is not in his best interests, and that the court failed to make written findings as required by statute. We reverse and remand.


On September 21, 1995, appellant, eleven-year-old J.L.M., knocked an eight-year-old girl down to the ground, got on top of her, forcibly touched her vagina, and pulled his pants down, exposing himself to her. On September 28, 1995, a juvenile delinquency petition was filed in Stearns County, charging J.L.M. with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the fourth-degree. Approximately seven months later, the petition was amended to include one count of criminal sexual conduct in the fifth-degree, one count of assault in the fifth-degree, one count of assault in the fifth-degree, and one count of lewd or lascivious behavior. Venue was twice transferred between Stearns County and Benton County because of J.L.M.'s change in residence. Finally, on April 17, 1996, J.L.M. was found delinquent by the Stearns County District Court on all six counts listed in the delinquency petition. The district court, however, withheld adjudication. Venue was then transferred to Sherburne County. A dispositional hearing was held on July 15, 1996, and J.L.M. was orally adjudicated as delinquent on all counts. Finding that it did not possess enough information regarding what was in J.L.M.'s best interests and what dispositional choices were available, the Sherburne County District Court by written order filed on July 19, 1996, continued the disposition, pending the completion of a sex offender assessment at the University of Minnesota and an evaluation of out-of-home placement as an option.

On November 18, 1996, the district court filed its disposition order. The court did not make written findings, but simply checked off the boxes on a preprinted form that stated, "[r]easonable efforts designed to prevent out-of-home placement have not proven successful," and that "[t]he best interests of the child will most appropriately be served by placement outside the parental home." The court ordered J.L.M. placed in secure detention at Lino Lakes until his placement at Mille Lacs Academy.

On December 9, 1996, a hearing to modify the original placement was held because Mille Lacs Academy informed the parties that it could not accept J.L.M. because of his low I.Q. The hearing was continued after it was learned that J.L.M.'s guardian was not represented by counsel. Following a hearing on December 16, 1996, the court ordered J.L.M. placed at the Leo Hoffman Center for sex offender treatment. On the record, the court found that "out-of-home treatment placement is in [J.L.M.'s] best interests." The court also found that a once or twice monthly out-patient treatment program without more intensive supervision and support in treatment would not adequately meet J.L.M.'s needs. The court stated that it believed that an in-patient treatment facility was the best way to make certain that J.L.M. gets the help he needs.


The trial court has broad discretion in choosing the appropriate juvenile delinquency disposition and its decision will be affirmed as long as it is not arbitrary. In re Welfare of J.A.J., 545 N.W.2d 412, 414 (Minn. App. 1996). "Absent a clear abuse of discretion, a trial court's disposition will not be disturbed." Id.

The purpose in delinquency dispositions is the rehabilitation and the restoration of law-abiding conduct in the juvenile. In re Welfare of L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d 392, 398 (Minn. App. 1985). Accordingly, "[a] disposition must be 'necessary to the rehabilitation of the child,' and 'necessary to restore law-abiding conduct in the juvenile.'" J.A.J., 542 N.W.2d at 415 (quoting Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 1 (1994); In re Welfare of M.R.S., 400 N.W.2d 147, 151 (Minn. App. 1987)). In a delinquency disposition, the court must take the least drastic step to restore law-abiding conduct. M.R.S., 400 N.W.2d at 151.

J.L.M. argues that the district court committed reversible error when it failed to make written findings of fact to support its disposition. We agree.

"Findings regarding guilt are sufficient if in writing or on the record." In re Welfare of L.B., 404 N.W.2d 341, 346 (Minn. App. 1987). When ordering a disposition, however, the court is required by statute and the rules of juvenile protection to make written findings on "why the best interests of the child are served by the disposition ordered," and "what alternative dispositions were considered" and why such alternatives were not appropriate. See Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 1 (1996); Minn. R. Juv. P. 62.05; J.A.J., 545 N.W.2d at 415; In re Welfare of M.A.C., 455 N.W.2d 494, 498-99 (Minn. App. 1990). "The failure to make the statutorily required findings constitutes reversible error." M.A.C., 455 N.W.2d at 499.

In the present case, the district court failed to make any written findings that the aims of the law could not be satisfied without removal of the child from the home, or that the placement at the Leo Hoffman Center was suitable for J.L.M.'s needs. Minnesota case law is uniformly clear that it is reversible error for a court not to make the statutorily required findings. The court simply checked a box on a preprinted form that the disposition is in J.L.M.'s best interests. Findings on the record or on a preprinted form are insufficient. M.R.S., 400 N.W.2d at 151-53 (holding that words simply filled in on a preprinted form "fall far short of the statutory requirement" and constitute reversible error); see also J.A.J., 545 N.W.2d at 415 (holding that "[t]he bare statement that the best interests of a child require the disposition is insufficient").

The court also erred when it failed to specify the length of J.L.M.'s placement, leaving this decision to J.L.M.'s probation officer. Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 4 (1996), requires that orders transferring legal custody to a county probation officer for placement in a group foster home "shall be for a specified length of time set by the court." See In re Welfare G.D.E., 313 N.W.2d 388, 388 (Minn. 1981) (holding that commitment of juvenile to county home school should have been made for definite period of time); see also J.A.J., 545 N.W.2d at 428 (Crippen, J., concurring specially) (noting that a juvenile court's assessment of a juvenile's needs, a part of its best interest finding, "cannot occur without professional reporting on the predicted duration of inpatient services thought to be needed").

Because the district court failed to make the statutorily required findings to support its disposition, we do not address J.L.M.'s argument that the court's order was arbitrary and not in his best interest. We reverse and remand so that the court can make the appropriate findings. Given the lapse of time between the date of J.L.M.'s offenses and the court's disposition, the court may at its discretion open the record to take additional evidence regarding the current status of J.L.M.

Reversed and remanded.

[ ]* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.