may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. sec. 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Matter of the Welfare of:
Filed March 18, 1997
Becker County District Court
File No. J7-95-50105
Hubert H. Humphrey III, State Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent).
Joseph Evans, Becker County Attorney, Michael D. Fritz, Assistant Becker County Attorney, P.O. Box 743, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501 (for respondent).
Considered and decided by Davies, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Short, Judge.
Appellant argues the evidence is insufficient as a matter of law to support his adjudication as a delinquent child for committing first-degree criminal sexual conduct. We affirm.
Immediately, Miller asked Pope if she knew of anyone touching N.B. in an inappropriate or sexual manner. Pope was unsure, and because she was leaving town, she asked Tara Larson, the children's fourteen-year-old babysitter, to speak with N.B. about sexual improprieties. According to Larson, N.B. told her that one morning, while her brother and sister were upstairs watching television, appellant came into her room and locked the door. Appellant then took N.B.'s underwear off and started to play with her. N.B. stated that appellant tickled her "private," but that she did not like it because it hurt. N.B. also stated to Larson that appellant had placed his "private" into her "private."
When Pope and Miller arrived home, Larson told Pope what N.B. had said to her. Suspecting that N.B. might be the victim of sexual abuse, Miller contacted his father, a retired sheriff's deputy. Miller's father told him to contact local law enforcement about the incident.
Pope contacted Gary Mills of the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department. After some preliminary questions, Mills determined that the most serious incident occurred in Becker County. He contacted Becker County law enforcement and they began an investigation. A delinquency petition was filed on February 6, 1995, charging appellant with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1 (1994), was filed on February 6, 1995.
During the delinquency hearing, N.B. testified that appellant had touched her "private" with his hand under her clothes. According to N.B., her "private" meant her vagina and appellant's "private" meant his penis. N.B. also testified that appellant placed his "private" in her "private." In both instances, N.B. stated that it hurt. N.B. testified further that on two separate occasions appellant masturbated and ejaculated in front of her. N.B. did not tell her parents because she was afraid.
Similarly, Larson testified that N.B. told her that appellant had taken off her underwear and began playing with her. Larson stated that N.B. told her that appellant had placed his "private" in her "private." According to Larson, N.B. was upset, crying, and appeared scared when she revealed this information.
The juvenile court also received, without objection, the videotape interview of N.B. by Michelle Simison of Becker County Human Services. Simison was trained and accredited by Cornerhouse in conducting interviews with child victims of sexual abuse. The Cornerhouse method of interviewing is designed to avoid leading questions, thereby soliciting "hopefully" genuine, spontaneous reports of sexual abuse by children. During the interview with Simison, N.B. stated that appellant placed his "private" into her "private."
The parties also stipulated to the introduction of the deposition of Dr. Mark Johnson, the victim's psychologist. Dr. Johnson stated that N.B. had been sexually abused and that she had identified the perpetrator by name. According to Dr. Johnson, N.B. stated that appellant had placed his "private" into her "private" and that it hurt. N.B. described appellant's "private" as hard and bumpy and that white stuff came out of appellant's "private" onto her bed.
During his interview with Mills, appellant denied touching or penetrating N.B. During the hearing, appellant again denied ever touching N.B. in an inappropriate manner. Finally, both of appellant's parents testified that when asked, appellant denied ever touching or having any inappropriate contact with N.B.
Following the hearing, the juvenile court adjudicated appellant delinquent for having committed two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. The juvenile court concluded that N.B. had remained consistent in the core allegations throughout the entire process. Specifically, that appellant masturbated and ejaculated in front of her, penetrated her vagina with his fingers and penis, and that he made her touch his penis. Noting N.B.'s demeanor throughout the hearing, the juvenile court stated that it found her testimony more credible than appellant's. Finally, the juvenile court concluded the expert testimony of Dr. Johnson and Simison to be reliable and found that N.B.'s responses to them were made of her own initiative and not in response to any leading or suggestive questioning.
Appellant maintains that the evidence presented by the prosecution is, as a matter of law, insufficient as a matter of law to sustain his adjudication because it is based on a series of hearsay statements coming from the "confused story of a little girl." Appellant also places great weight on the fact that there was no physical evidence to substantiate N.B.'s allegations against him.
Here, the statements and testimony of N.B. were the basis for appellant's adjudication. Throughout the process of being interviewed and questioned, and also during the delinquency hearing, N.B. consistently stated that appellant masturbated and ejaculated in her presence, that he penetrated her vagina with his penis and fingers, and that he made her touch his penis. The testimony of N.B. was sufficient to allow the juvenile court to adjudicate appellant delinquent of the complained-of charge. See In re Welfare of W.W.M., 400 N.W.2d 203, 205 (Minn. App. 1987) (holding that testimony of child complainant was sufficient to sustain finding of juvenile defendant's delinquency). Minn. Stat. §609.347, subd. 1 (1996), specifically provides that: "[i]n a prosecution [for criminal sexual conduct in the first degree under Minn. Stat. § 609.342], the testimony of a victim need not be corroborated." The fact that there is no corroborating physical evidence is not dispositive in appellant's favor. Corroborating evidence in sexual abuse cases helps; at times, depending on the credibility of witnesses, it may make the difference. But a trial court can proceed on witness testimony alone, even from the young.
Appellant did not argue that N.B. was incompetent to testify. In Minnesota, "children are now presumed competent to testify unless the contrary is shown." State v. Scott, 501 N.W.2d 608, 613 (Minn. 1993). N.B. was 10 years old at the time of the hearing and was questioned regarding her ability to relate and remember events, and also regarding her ability to distinguish between something that is true and not true. Based on this questioning, the juvenile court found N.B. competent to testify. See State v. Lanam, 459 N.W.2d 656, 659 (Minn. 1990) (holding that trial court must determine whether the child has an ability to understand, to be truthful, and to remember and relate events).
The juvenile court was free to believe or disbelieve N.B.'s testimony, as with any witness. The court found N.B.'s testimony to be more credible than appellant's. This is within the province of the juvenile court. See In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 374-75 (Minn. 1990) ("Trial courts stand in a superior position to appellate courts in assessing the credibility of witnesses * * * ."); State v. Garrett, 479 N.W.2d 745, 747 (Minn. App. 1992).
We find there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the juvenile court's legal conclusion that appellant committed the act charged.