Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Filed February 24, 1998
File No. J99450704
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota St., St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent state)
Raymond F. Schmitz, Olmsted County Attorney, David S. Voigt, Assistant County Attorney, 151 S.E. Fourth St., Rochester, MN 55904 (for respondent state)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Charlann E. Winking, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Ave. S.E., Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant child)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Davies, Judge, and Foley, Judge.*
*Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
Appellant C.L.W. challenges a dispositional review order committing him to the Commissioner of Corrections until his 19th birthday. We reverse and remand.
In May 1996, appellant ran away from Boys' Ranch. The ranch therapist's report noted that appellant's difficulties at Boy's Ranch included drug use, threats to staff, and vandalism. By a June 1996 dispositional review order, the court committed appellant to the St. Cloud Children's Home. Appellant was at Children's Home for less than a month before he was moved to their locked facility because he continued to run. In a March 1997 dispositional review order, the court found that appellant had derived "maximum benefit" from Children's Home and placed him in the R-Home program.
In early May 1997, appellant ran from R-Home. He was apprehended and returned one week later. In late May, R-Home requested that appellant be removed because of his "extreme non-compliance with the program," continuing threats to run, and poor school behavior. At a June 1997 disposition review hearing, the court committed appellant to the Commissioner of Corrections, but stayed execution to allow for an evidentiary hearing. At the evidentiary hearing, appellant's counsel proposed that the court adopt a probation officer's recommendation that appellant be returned to his father and participate in the OMNIA Connections program. Because the OMNIA program did not have sufficient history of success to demonstrate that appellant would likely be successful in that program, the court committed appellant to the Commissioner of Corrections at Red Wing until appellant's 19th birthday. Appellant, who is now 16 years old and on parole from Red Wing, brings this appeal.
The dispositional choices available to the court are set forth in Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 1 (Supp. 1997). Any dispositional order under this section "shall contain written findings of fact to support the disposition ordered." Id. The order must also provide the following information in writing:
(a) why the best interests of the child are served by the disposition ordered; and
(b) what alternative dispositions were considered by the court and why such dispositions were not appropriate in the instant case.
Appellant argues that he was denied due process because the district court failed to provide a proper hearing before revoking his probation and committing him to the Commissioner of Corrections. See Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.07, subd. 3(B) (before probation can be revoked, child has right to hearing on alleged violations).
In addition to revoking probation, however, the district court also has authority to modify an existing delinquency disposition. Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.08. A court may modify a disposition if it is shown that there has been a substantial change of circumstances, and that the original disposition is no longer sufficient to restore the child to lawful conduct or is inconsistent with the child's rehabilitative needs. Id. at subd. 8. A hearing is required, and the party moving for the modification has the burden to show by clear and convincing evidence that the modification is warranted. Id. at subds. 5, 7.
Such is the case here. At the time of the June 1997 dispositional review hearing, appellant was under a March 1997 disposition order to "successfully complete the program at R-Home." When R-Home asked that appellant be removed, the county applied for a dispositional review. At the review hearing, the county made the requisite showing that the previous disposition was no longer feasible and a modification was needed. The court then committed appellant to the Commissioner of Corrections, but stayed the commitment pending an evidentiary hearing. At the evidentiary hearing, the court found that no suitable alternatives were offered and confirmed the order for commitment. The court followed the proper procedures for a disposition modification, and appellant's due process rights were not violated.
B. Best Interests
The disposition chosen by the court must serve the child's best interests. In re Welfare of L.K.W. 372 N.W.2d 392, 399 (Minn. App. 1985). Appellant argues that the court failed to consider his best interests when it committed him to the Commissioner of Corrections at Red Wing.
The June 1997 dispositional order does not include a finding that commitment to the Commissioner of Corrections is in appellant's best interests. Although the record indicates that appellant's previous court-ordered placements were unsuccessful, that the court was concerned about the appropriateness of home placement and the OMNIA program, and that commitment to the commissioner was the only remaining alternative, written findings addressing the best interests of the child are also required to support the disposition. Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 1; see also M.A.C., 455 N.W.2d at 499 ("Written findings are essential to enable meaningful appellate review."); In re Welfare of L.B., 404 N.W.2d 341, 346 (Minn. App. 1987) ("Omission of these statutorily mandated written findings constitutes reversible error.").
To ensure that a placement serves a child's best interests, there must be specific evidence in the record that the placement is suitable for the needs of the child. L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d at 400. Our review of the record indicates that appellant may need a medical evaluation, psychological counseling, and chemical abuse counseling. There is no indication in the record that Red Wing can meet these needs. Without oral or written findings on the appropriateness of the commitment, we cannot evaluate whether commitment to the Commissioner of Corrections at Red Wing is in appellant's best interest.
The June 17, 1997, order committing appellant to the Commissioner of Corrections at Red Wing is reversed and the case is remanded for reconsideration as to whether commitment is in appellant's best interest. On remand, written findings are
required to support the disposition. A hearing shall be held at the discretion of the district court.
Reversed and remanded.
[ 1] The fact that appellant is on parole and living with his father does not make this appeal moot. Prior to his commitment to the Commissioner of Corrections, appellant was on probation status and under the supervision of the district court; he is now under the jurisdiction of the commissioner. Should appellant violate the terms of his current parole, the commissioner (not the court) will decide the outcome. Also, once a child is committed to the Commissioner of Corrections, the court can no longer expunge the child's delinquency adjudication. Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 2 (1996).
[ 2] Appellant also contends that the district court abused its discretion because it did not choose the least drastic alternative when it committed appellant to the Commissioner of Corrections. See L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d at 398 (in determining a disposition, court must take the "least drastic necessary step" to restore the juvenile to lawful conduct). Because of our decision to remand for additional findings, we do not rule on this issue. We do note, however, that the district court (in its June 1997 disposition order) made the statutorily required findings on this aspect of the disposition.