STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
Filed August 18, 1998
Chisago County District Court
File No. J19750404
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
James T. Reuter, Chisago County Attorney, Courthouse, 313 N. Main Street, Center City, MN 55012 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Forsberg, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.**
Appellant seeks review of the district court's decision certifying him for prosecution as an adult. Appellant claims that the certification order should be reversed because the district court failed to make written findings explaining the reasons for its decision or, in the alternative, erred in concluding that appellant failed to rebut the presumption of certification. Because the district court's findings meet the requirements for presumptive certification orders and the record adequately supports the certification decision, we affirm.
In August 1997, the Chisago County attorney filed a petition charging sixteen-year-old M.R.D. with criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, assault in the second degree, terroristic threats, theft of a motor vehicle, and possession of a handgun. According to the petition, the victim met M.R.D. as she was leaving a store and agreed to give him a ride to a mall. After the victim and M.R.D. had driven for a while, M.R.D. pulled a handgun and ordered the victim to continue driving. When they eventually stopped, M.R.D. told the victim to get out of the car, ripped her clothes off, and attempted to have oral and anal sex with her. He then tied the victim to an abandoned sofa with a piece of twine, and told her to wait before seeking help. M.R.D. gave the victim her clothes, took thirty to forty dollars out of her purse, and left in her car after discharging the handgun once.
The victim waited ten to twenty minutes before she cut the twine with a piece of glass and walked to a neighboring farm to get help. Eventually, the police investigation led to M.R.D., who, upon questioning, admitted all the allegations in the petition except the allegation that he had sexual contact with the victim. On the basis of these facts and a 9-mm casing the police found at the scene of the crime, the Chisago County attorney filed the delinquency petition in question and moved for certification.
Dr. James Gilbertson, a psychologist, evaluated M.R.D. and testified at the certification hearing. He expressed concern about M.R.D.'s long record of delinquencies and his history of running away from treatment placements and re-offending while on the run. He also expressed concerns about the lack of improvement in M.R.D.'s behavior, despite numerous interventions that included every available option except placement in a formal juvenile correctional residential program. Although Dr. Gilbertson admitted that "there [was] a certain * * * fit between [M.R.D.'s] treatment needs, and available juvenile treatment programs," he recommended certification in light of M.R.D.'s history of running away and his potential for re-offending while on the run.
Chisago County probation officer Gary Wood recommended certification too. He based his recommendation on the conclusion that the programming available in the juvenile system had proven ineffective in curtailing M.R.D.'s delinquent behavior and the "[j]uvenile [s]ystem['s] options have been exhausted." M.R.D.'s witnesses disagreed. They testified that M.R.D. could benefit from secure juvenile programming and recommended treatment at Bar-None Residential Treatment Services, a secure facility that emphasizes a cognitive/behavioral treatment approach and had accepted M.R.D.
At the end of the certification hearing, the court ruled from the bench that M.R.D. had not rebutted the presumption of certification and granted the state's motion for certification. The court subsequently issued the written order that is the subject of this appeal.
The juvenile court has considerable discretion in determining whether a juvenile should be certified for adult prosecution in a given case. In re Welfare of K.M., 544 N.W.2d 781, 784 (Minn. App. 1996). Its decision will not be reversed absent a clear abuse of that discretion. In re Welfare of S.J.G., 547 N.W.2d 456, 459 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Aug. 6, 1996). On the other hand, whether the juvenile court satisfied the requirements of the certification statute is a question of law and, as such, is subject to de novo review. See D.W. Hutt Consultants, Inc. v. Construction Maintenance Systems, Inc., 526 N.W.2d 62, 64 (Minn. App. 1995) (statutory construction is a legal question reviewed de novo). The charges against the juvenile are presumed to be true for purposes of certification hearings. In re Welfare of S.W.N., 541 N.W.2d 14, 16 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Feb. 9, 1996).
The juvenile court may certify a child for adult prosecution if it finds that the child is presumptively certified and has failed to rebut the presumption of certification by clear and convincing evidence that retaining the proceeding in the juvenile court would serve public safety. Minn. Stat. § 260.125, subd. 2(6)(i) (1996). A juvenile is presumptively certified if the juvenile is sixteen or seventeen years old at the time of the offense and either uses a firearm in committing the offense or the offense is one that would result in a presumptive commitment to prison under the sentencing guidelines. Id. subd. 2a. Here, M.R.D. was presumptively certified because he was sixteen years old at the time of the alleged offense and was charged with committing a felony while using a firearm.
The certification statute requires written findings of fact and conclusions of law in all non-presumptive cases and in presumptive cases in which the court denies the state's motion for certification. Minn. Stat. § 265.125, subd. 5 (1996). The statute does not require written findings and conclusions, however, in presumptive cases in which the court orders certification. Id. Nevertheless, the Minnesota Supreme Court has stated that, as a matter of due process, reference decisions must be "accompanied by a sufficient statement of the reasons for and considerations leading to that decision." In re Welfare of I.Q.S., 244 N.W.2d 30, 38 (Minn. 1976). The statement of reasons does not "necessarily [have to] meet formal or conventional findings-of-fact requirements[, but] should sufficiently demonstrate the court's full investigation of the matter, that careful consideration has led to its decision, and upon which statutory basis the court has relied." Id.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has affirmed certification decisions based on written findings that are insufficient on their face, however, when the record contains adequate evidence to support the court's decision. In In re Welfare of W.H., for example, one of the nine cases the court consolidated for appeal in I.Q.S., the court affirmed the juvenile court's certification order reasoning that "while there [were] not sufficient findings contained within the order to support a determination of the risk to public safety involved, there [was] adequate evidence in the record to support such a finding." I.Q.S., 244 N.W.2d at 40. Similarly, in In re Welfare of F.C.R., another of the cases consolidated in I.Q.S., the supreme court affirmed the certification order reasoning that "while [the written] findings, standing alone, may not contain specific facts to support them, the record evinces the juvenile's repeated contacts with the juvenile court upon petitions of delinquency as well as his demonstrated failure to respond to treatment programs." I.Q.S., 244 N.W.2d at 40-41.
In the order certifying M.R.D. for adult prosecution, the juvenile court found probable cause to believe that M.R.D. had committed the offenses alleged in the delinquency petition. It also found that the presumption of certification applied because M.R.D. was sixteen years old at the time of the offense and had committed a felony while using a firearm. It then concluded that M.R.D. "has failed to rebut the presumption of certification by demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that retaining the proceeding in the juvenile court serves public safety." Without more, the court certified M.R.D. for prosecution as an adult on all charges.
On its face, the juvenile court's written order is insufficient to satisfy due process requirements because it lacks "a sufficient statement of the reasons" the court relied upon in arriving at its decision and does not demonstrate that the court "fully investigated" the matter or "carefully considered" its decision. See I.Q.S., 244 N.W.2d at 38. The record in this case, however, contains an adequate explanation of the court's certification decision and sufficient evidence to support it. The certification decision, therefore, is not reversible.
The record establishes unequivocally that the district court certified M.R.D. for adult prosecution for two reasons: first, the lack of a sex offender program in the juvenile system that could rehabilitate a juvenile who, like M.R.D., refused to admit to being a sex offender; and, second, the lack of a secure chemical dependency treatment facility that could address M.R.D.'s chemical abuse problems given his tendency to run away. Admittedly, during the certification hearing the court stated, in apparent contradiction with its ultimate decision to certify, that the extended juvenile jurisdiction program would serve M.R.D. and society best. The record as a whole, however, adequately explains the reasons for the court's decision and supports the court's implicit finding that M.R.D. was not amenable to treatment in the juvenile system and that the public's safety was at risk as long as M.R.D.'s sexual and chemical abuse problem remained untreated. Accordingly, the certification decision is not reversible.
In addition, the court's finding that public safety is not served by retaining M.R.D. in the juvenile system is not clearly erroneous. In determining whether certification serves public safety, the juvenile court must consider the following factors: (1) the seriousness of the alleged offense in terms of community protection, including the use of a firearm and the impact on any victim; (2) the culpability of the child in committing the alleged offense; (3) the child's prior record of delinquency; (4) the child's programming history; (5) the adequacy of punishment or programming available in the juvenile system; and (6) the dispositional options available for the child. Minn. Stat. § 260.125, subd. 2b (1996). The court must give greater weight to the seriousness of the offense and the child's prior record of delinquency than to the other factors. Id. Evidence that no feasible program is available in the juvenile system or that the juvenile has rejected treatment efforts by running away, however, is sufficient to support a finding that public safety is not served by retaining the child in the juvenile system. In re Welfare of D.M., 373 N.W.2d 845, 848-49 (Minn. App. 1985); In re Welfare of K.J.K., 357 N.W.2d 117, 119-20 (Minn. App. 1984).
Here, the record fully supports the court's certification decision. The record establishes that M.R.D. (1) committed a serious offense against a person while using a firearm; (2) admitted kidnapping the victim at gunpoint and stealing her car; (3) has a lengthy record of delinquencies that dates back to 1993 and includes hurling missiles from a bridge, criminal damage to property in the first degree, aiding and abetting in the theft of a motor vehicle and a firearm, misdemeanor thefts, auto theft, and a burglary and receiving stolen property charge that is currently pending in Wright County; and (4) has been unwilling to participate meaningfully in programming options available to him as evidenced by his very long history of running away from treatment placements. The seriousness of the offense and M.R.D.'s prior record of delinquency support the court's decision to certify. Moreover, although the record establishes that some programming is available in the juvenile system, the court's finding that an adequate chemical dependency program in a secure facility is not available and that M.R.D. presents a very high risk of elopement is supported by clear and convincing evidence.
Thus, because the certification report, the psychological evaluation, and the testimony offered at the certification hearing support the juvenile court's conclusion that public safety would not be served by retaining M.R.D. in the juvenile system, the court's decision to certify was not an abuse of discretion.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. Art. VI, § 10.
** Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. Art. VI, § 10.