This opinion will be unpublished and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:

Z.M.M., Child.

Filed December 8, 1998


Harten, Judge

Blue Earth County Juvenile Court

File No. J1-97-50650

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

Hubert H. Humphrey, III, Attorney General, 14th Floor NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent state)

Ross E. Arneson, Blue Earth County Attorney, Mark A. Lindahl, Assistant County Attorney, P.O. Box 3129, Mankato, MN 56002-3129 (for respondent state)

Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Harten, Judge.



Appellant Z.M.M. challenges the juvenile court's order adjudicating him delinquent for aiding and abetting assault in the third degree. Appellant claims that he was denied a fair trial by the manner in which the juvenile court joined, and then separated, the trials of appellant and his three juvenile co-defendants. We affirm.


On May 11, 1997, Kenneth Wright was the victim of a group assault in Mankato. Early that morning, a group of people in several automobiles chased Wright's car to a parking lot where Wright got out of the car and attempted to escape. Some or all of the males in the group caught Wright, got on top of him, kicked him, and punched him in the face. This incident resulted in appellant and three other juveniles--J.J.R. and brothers N.T. and T.T.--being petitioned into juvenile court on charges of aiding and abetting assault in the third degree.

Prior to trial, the state moved the juvenile court to join the trials of the four juveniles pursuant to Minn. R. Juv. P. 13.07. The T. brothers and appellant opposed the joinder motion. Stating that a joint trial would preclude the four juveniles from manipulating the order of separate trials, the juvenile court granted the state's motion for a joint trial. The juvenile court later allowed a hybrid procedure whereby the juveniles were tried jointly when the state presented its case, but the juveniles' cases were then separated for individual presentations.

At trial during the state's case, witness Lisa Mocol's testimony was most damaging to appellant. According to Mocol, she and a group of people were parked in a parking lot near the Subway restaurant when Wright passed by in an automobile. Mocol testified that upon seeing Wright, appellant said, "Let's go, follow me," as he entered a car to chase Wright. Then a couple days after the incident, according to Mocol, she overheard appellant admit he was involved in the assault. Mocol repeated on cross-examination by counsel for the T. brothers and J.J.R. some of the testimony tending to incriminate appellant.

Following the presentation of the state's case, N.T.'s attorney expressed his concern to the juvenile court that the order in which the juveniles presented their defenses might unfairly influence N.T.'s decision to testify. Counsel for N.T. then suggested to the court that the juveniles present their defenses individually in the absence of the other juveniles and their attorneys. The district court adopted this suggestion, stating that it would not use evidence presented during one juvenile's defense against another juvenile. Neither the state nor any of the juveniles objected to this arrangement, and the juvenile court presided over the presentation of evidence by each of the juveniles.

N.T. was the first to present his defense. His sole witness was Dustin Doust, a cousin of N.T. and T.T. According to Doust, he was in the group at the Subway restaurant parking lot and heard appellant yell, "[T]here he is, get him," as Wright passed by the group. Doust further testified that appellant led the crowd chasing Wright and that appellant jumped on Wright after catching up with him. Doust testified again in T.T.'s defense, largely repeating this testimony.

Appellant's mother and James Dickinson testified for appellant. Dickinson testified that he was in the group at the Subway parking lot and heard many voices suggest that they should chase Wright. Dickinson also testified that appellant's car was one of the last cars in the procession following Wright. Finally, Dickinson testified that neither he nor appellant participated in the assault of Wright. Appellant chose not to testify on his own behalf.

On February 11, 1998, the juvenile court issued its findings and conclusions adjudicating appellant delinquent. J.J.R. was also adjudicated delinquent, while N.T. and T.T. were not. This appeal followed.


Appellant first argues that the juvenile court erred in its threshold decision to join the trials of the four juveniles. Appellant contends that, due to the potential for prejudice caused by the juveniles' conflicting defenses, the juvenile court initially should not have ordered a joint trial.

In reviewing a trial court's decision on joinder of defendants, we make "an independent inquiry into any substantial prejudice to defendants that may have resulted from their being joined for trial." State v. Hathaway, 379 N.W.2d 498, 502 (Minn. 1985). Minn. R. Juv. P. 13.07, subd. 1, states:

When two or more children are jointly charged with any offense, they may be tried separately or jointly in the discretion of the court. Where the offense is a felony, the court shall consider the nature of the offense charged, the impact on the victim, the potential prejudice to each child, and the interests of justice before ordering a joint trial. A child in a joint trial shall be found guilty or not guilty in the same manner as a child tried separately.

We have recognized that a joint trial can be prejudicial to co-defendants when their defenses are inconsistent or antagonistic. See, e.g., State v. Southard, 360 N.W.2d 376, 381 (Minn. App. 1985) (joint trial not prejudicial, in part, because co-defendants did not raise inconsistent defenses or require exculpatory evidence of each other), review denied (Minn. Apr. 12, 1985).

Here, the juvenile court's decision to grant the state's joinder motion was based not only on the convenience of a joint trial, but also on the interests of justice. Specifically, by ordering a joint trial, the juvenile court avoided the possibility that the juveniles might seek advantage by manipulating the order of separate trials. Thus, the court's initial joinder decision advanced the interests of justice and did not substantially prejudice appellant.

Appellant next argues that the juvenile court's decision to separate the individual juvenile defenses deprived him of a fair trial. While some informality is permitted under the law, due process requires that juvenile proceedings meet a standard of fundamental fairness. In re Welfare of N.W., 405 N.W.2d 512, 516 (Minn. App. 1987). See also McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528, 543, 91 S. Ct. 1976, 1985 (1971) (holding that the applicable due process standard in juvenile proceedings is "fundamental fairness"). The Rules of Juvenile Procedure were promulgated to "assure that the constitutional rights of [juveniles] are protected" and to assure that the procedures involving juveniles are "fair and just." Minn. R. Juv. P. 1.02.

Appellant's principal argument is that the entire trial process was tainted by making the same juvenile court the factfinder for each of the juveniles and that the judge heard evidence tending to incriminate appellant during the defenses of the T. brothers. Appellant contends that this court cannot realistically expect a juvenile court to ignore testimony such as Doust's when making findings of fact. The record gives no indication that the juvenile court considered any of the evidence presented in the defenses of the T. brothers in determining whether the state met its burden of proof against appellant. Prior to trial, the juvenile court expressed its belief that it would "be able to keep the issues separate for each case." The juvenile court repeated that belief when counsel for N.T. questioned whether the juvenile court would use evidence presented during another juvenile's defense against his client. The court's response was that it was "not going to do that." We conclude that the juvenile court was capable of compartmentalizing Doust's testimony and did so in this case.

The juvenile court's findings of fact do not show that it considered Doust's testimony while evaluating the evidence against appellant. In its findings, the juvenile court stated that "[t]here is no clear and convincing evidence that [appellant] participated in the assault." This finding directly contradicts the testimony of Doust and undercuts appellant's claim that the court considered Doust's testimony while making findings of fact in appellant's case.

Also unconvincing is appellant's claim that he was denied due process by the juvenile court's decision that each juvenile's defense would be presented in the absence of the other juveniles and their attorneys. Doust's testimony was not presented at appellant's trial. Appellant ceased to be a co-defendant in the trials of the T. brothers after the juvenile court separated the juveniles' defenses. Just as appellant would have had no right to cross-examine Doust if the trials had been separate from the beginning, he had no right to do so after the juveniles' defenses were separated.

Finally, the record does not support appellant's contention that the juvenile court was unduly influenced by the efforts of the other juveniles' attorneys to incriminate appellant through cross-examination of the state's witnesses. On cross-examination, Mocol repeated both her testimony that she heard appellant alone encourage the group to chase Wright and her testimony tending to give appellant a motive to assault Wright. Mocol's testimony was clear on direct examination, and no new incriminating evidence was elicited on cross-examination. As factfinder, the juvenile court was less likely than a jury to be influenced by the repetition of testimony. Moreover, the state's evidence against appellant was stronger than the evidence tending to incriminate the other juveniles. The fact that Mocol repeated testimony tending to incriminate appellant did not deny appellant's right to a fundamentally fair trial.

The Rules of Juvenile Procedure do not authorize the trial procedure employed by the juvenile court. Rule 13.07 allows for either joint or separate trials. By joining the juveniles' cases for the state's case and then separating the juveniles' defenses, the juvenile court created a hybrid not authorized in the Rules. It is problematic for a trial court to stray from accepted trial processes established by the applicable rules of procedure.[1] After careful review of the facts of this case, however, we find that appellant's trial was fundamentally fair. We conclude that the juvenile court did not deny appellant's right to due process and a fair trial.


[1] This court has under consideration an appeal by J.R.R. (C8-98-749) claiming the state should have disclosed Doust's testimony, which tended to exculpate J.R.R.