In the Matter of the Welfare of: J.F.T., Child.
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALSC4-02-1824
In the Matter of the
Welfare of: J.F.T., Child.
Filed July 1, 2003
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remandedHudson, Judge
Traverse County District Court
File No. J00250017
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Ann McCaughan, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55414 (for appellant child)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, Minnesota 55103; and
Matthew P. Franzese, Traverse County Attorney, 218 Third Avenue East, Suite 102, Alexandria, Minnesota 56308; and
David Hauser, Otter Tail County Attorney, 121 West Junius Avenue, Fergus Falls, Minnesota 56537 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant J.F.T. was adjudicated delinquent for committing third-degree criminal sexual conduct in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.344, subds. 1(b) and 2 (2000). On appeal, appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by denying his request for a stay of adjudication. Appellant further argues that the disposition order must be reversed because the district court: (1) failed to order an independent assessment of J.F.T.'s need for sex-offender treatment; (2) failed to provide written findings of the dispositional alternatives it considered; and (3) failed to consider the "least drastic step necessary" to restore him to law-abiding conduct. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting J.F.T.'s request for a stay of adjudication, we affirm the delinquency adjudication. But because the district court failed to order an independent assessment and because it failed to provide written findings of the dispositional alternatives it considered, we reverse and remand the dispositional order for: (1) the state to immediately produce and file with the district court the independent professional assessment, if it exists. If no such assessment has been completed, we remand for the district court to order the testing required by Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 1(k) (2002); and (2) the district court to provide the written findings required by Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05. subd. 2(A). We do not disturb that part of the district court's order requiring J.F.T. to register as a sex offender.FACTS
Approximately three years ago, 17-year-old appellant J.F.T. began residing in the foster home of Karen Trosdahl. J.F.T. is mentally retarded with an I.Q. of 61. On March 19, 2002, during a room check, Trosdahl discovered a torn-up note and pieced it back together. The note read, "Be mine, I love you. [J.F.T.]." Trosdahl confronted 13year-old J.D.C., a juvenile also residing in the Trosdahl home, about the note. J.D.C. stated that J.F.T. had been inappropriately touching him since J.D.C. moved into the Trosdahl home in November 2001. Trosdahl then confronted J.F.T. who admitted that he had sexually touched J.D.C. The sexual contact had occurred from early November 2001 to late March 2002. On March 20, 2002, Trosdahl reported the maltreatment to Otter Tail County Human Services.
Pursuant to an order in a CHIPS petition, J.F.T. was placed in the Leo Hoffman Treatment Center (Leo Hoffman Center), a facility for adolescent boys who have been victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse. Shortly thereafter, Otter Tail County filed a delinquency petition describing in detail the sexual acts J.D.C. alleged J.F.T. inflicted upon him. The sexual acts included oral and anal sex. The petition alleged that J.F.T. was delinquent for committing third-degree criminal sexual conduct. At the delinquency hearing, J.F.T. admitted the allegations in the petition. In response, the district court withheld adjudication and ordered a predisposition report. Once completed, the predisposition report revealed that the Trosdahl family had become very attached to J.F.T. and wished to adopt him. J.F.T.'s therapist cautioned that J.F.T. would definitely be a threat to public safety if he did not complete the treatment program at Leo Hoffman Center. The predisposition report concluded with a recommendation that J.F.T. be required to complete the sex-offender program at Leo Hoffman Center and after completion of the program be permitted to return to the Trosdahl family.
At the adjudication and disposition hearing, Ellen Vollmers, J.F.T.'s social worker, and Trosdahl testified on J.F.T.'s behalf. Vollmers testified that J.F.T. was making progress at the Leo Hoffman Center. Vollmers also testified that she believed a stay of adjudication would be helpful to J.F.T. Trosdahl testified that it was more likely that J.D.C. was the aggressor because J.D.C. has a higher I.Q. and is more cunning and manipulative than J.F.T. Trosdahl also testified that she would like to have J.F.T. returned to her home after he completed treatment and that she was willing to provide J.F.T. with supervision over the next few years. Trosdahl also indicated that she was willing to complete the extra paperwork required as a consequence of housing a sexual perpetrator. Trosdahl, too, believed that a stay of adjudication would be beneficial to J.F.T.
At the hearing, J.F.T. argued that a stay of adjudication would better serve his rehabilitation, was more appropriate because of his low I.Q., and was more appropriate because of Trosdahl's speculation that J.D.C. may have been the aggressor in the criminal sexual conduct. The state countered that six months, the maximum time permissible for the district court to stay adjudication as provided in Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 7 (2002), was not enough time for the state to have control over J.F.T. The state argued that J.F.T. should be adjudicated delinquent and that J.F.T. should be required to register as a sex offender.
In its adjudication and disposition order the district court adjudicated J.F.T. delinquent for committing third-degree criminal sexual conduct and ordered that J.F.T. complete the sex-offender program at Leo Hoffman Center, register as a sex offender, and provide a DNA sample. This appeal followed.D E C I S I O N
J.F.T. argues that the district court abused its discretion when it adjudicated him delinquent instead of granting his request for a stay of adjudication because the delinquency adjudication is not the "least drastic step necessary" to rehabilitate him. We disagree.
On appeal from a delinquency adjudication, this court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the state. In re Welfare of S.A.M., 570 N.W.2d 162, 167 (Minn. App. 1997). The district court has broad discretion in determining whether to stay adjudication in a delinquency proceeding. In re Welfare of J.L.Y., 596 N.W.2d 692, 695 (Minn. App. 1999) (citing Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 3 (1998)), review granted (Minn. Sept. 28, 1999) and appeal dismissed (Minn. Feb. 15, 2000); In re Welfare of J.B.A., 581 N.W.2d 37, 39 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Aug. 31, 1998). Minnesota law provides:
When it is in the best interests of the child to do so and when the child has admitted the allegations contained in the petition * * * the court may continue the case for a period not to exceed 90 days on any one order. Such a continuance may be extended for one additional successive period not to exceed 90 days and only after the court has reviewed the case and entered its order for an additional continuance without a finding of delinquency.
Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 7 (2002) (emphasis added); see also Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 4(A) ("When it is in the best interests of the child and the protection of the public to do so, the court may continue the case without adjudicating the child."). But a stay of adjudication may not exceed 180 days. In re Welfare of M.A.R., 558 N.W.2d 274, 276 (Minn. App. 1997). Therefore, the district court may, in its discretion, delay an adjudication of delinquency for a period of up to 180 days when it deems it in the best interests of the child to do so.
Here, J.F.T.'s delinquency adjudication was not delayed. After considering the evidence, the district court issued an order adjudicating J.F.T. delinquent for committing third-degree criminal sexual conduct. J.F.T.'s argument that a delinquency adjudication was not the "least drastic step necessary" to restore him to law-abiding conduct is misplaced because it confuses the standard for staying adjudication with the standard for ordering a particular disposition. The "least drastic step necessary" is a factor considered by the district court in ordering a particular disposition. See In re Welfare of M.R.S., 400 N.W.2d 147, 151 (Minn. App. 1987); see also In re Welfare of L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d 392, 398 (Minn. App. 1985). As we have previously stated, however, the standard for staying adjudication and the standard for ordering a particular disposition are two distinct inquiries. In re Welfare of J.R.Z., 648 N.W.2d 241, 246 (Minn. App. 2002), review denied (Minn. Aug. 20, 2002); Welfare of J.L.Y., 596 N.W.2d at 695. J.F.T.'s argument is virtually identical with the argument we rejected in J.R.Z., in which we explainedthat:
[T]here is nothing in the statute that requires particularized findings on the court's decision to impose or withhold adjudication of delinquency. The particularized findings, including the finding on the least restrictive means for restoring a juvenile to law-abiding conduct, are required in determining a disposition, but not when deciding whether to adjudicate or stay adjudication.
Id. at 246; citing Welfare of J.L.Y., 596 N.W.2d at 695 (emphasis added).
Therefore, the district court is not required to make particularized findings regarding its decision to stay or impose adjudication of delinquency. Rather, the district court is required to make particularized findings in determining a disposition and in deciding whether the proposed disposition is the "least drastic step necessary" to restore the juvenile to law-abiding conduct. Because the district court is not required to make particularized findings in determining whether to stay or impose adjudication of delinquency, we conclude that it did not abuse its discretion.
J.F.T. next argues that the district court abused its discretion because an adjudication of delinquency requires that he register as a sex offender and therefore the delinquency adjudication cannot be in his best interest. We disagree.
A juvenile adjudicated delinquent for criminal sexual conduct under Minn. Stat. § 609.344 (2002) is required to register as a predatory offender. Minn. Stat. § 243.166, subd. 1(a)(1)(iii) (2002). Therefore, Minnesota law requires that J.F.T. register as a sex offender. The district court has no discretion under the statute.
As previously stated, adjudication may be stayed by the district court "[w]hen it is in the best interests of the child to do so and when the child has admitted the allegations contained in the petition * * * ." Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 7. The district court also considers the protection of the public in deciding whether to stay adjudication. Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 4(A). In J.R.Z., we concluded that where the district court had considered both the best-interests and public-safety factors, it had not abused its discretion by refusing to stay J.R.Z.'s delinquency adjudication. Welfare of J.R.Z., 648 N.W.2d at 246. Here, the district court considered both factors, finding that it was in J.F.T.'s best interests to complete the sex-offender program, and that the safety of the public would be assured if J.F.T. registered as a sex offender. We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in adjudicating J.F.T. delinquent for committing third-degree criminal sexual conduct.II
J.F.T. contends that the district court committed several errors that require its disposition order to be reversed.Sex-Offender Treatment Assessment
J.F.T. argues that the district court failed to order an independent professional assessment of his need for sex-offender treatment. Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 1(k) (2002), provides, in relevant part:
If the child is petitioned and found by the court to have committed * * * an act in violation of section * * * 609.344 * * * the court shall order an independent professional assessment of the child's need for sex offender treatment. * * * If the assessment indicates that the child is in need of and amenable to sex offender treatment, the court shall include in its disposition order a requirement that the child undergo treatment.
J.F.T. was adjudicated delinquent for violating Minn. Stat. § 609.344, subd. 1(b). Therefore, an independent assessment of J.F.T.'s need for sex-offender treatment is required by statute. Here, no assessment was ordered. Instead the district court ordered that J.F.T. complete the treatment program at Leo Hoffman Center.
The state argues that because J.F.T. was already in a sex-offender treatment program, an independent assessment was unnecessary. The state contends that having J.F.T. complete another sex-offender assessment while already in treatment is duplicative and would lead to an absurd result for the sake of satisfying the technical requirements of the statute. See Minn. Stat. 645.17 (2002) (the court must presume that the legislature did not intend an absurd result). We disagree.
While the state assumes that a treatment assessment has been completed, there is no evidence in the record that supports this assumption. The record contains no documentation from Leo Hoffman Center. Section 260B.198, subdivision 1(k), requires that the district court order an independent professional assessment when it has found that a child has committed an act in violation of section 609.344. Because Minnesota law mandates the assessment and the record does not indicate that such an assessment was ever completed, we remand for the state immediately to produce and file with the district court the independent professional assessment mandated by section 609.344, if it exists. If no such assessment has been completed, we remand for the district court to order the statutorily required assessment.Insufficient Written Findings
Next J.F.T. argues that the disposition order is deficient because the district court failed to include written findings with respect to the alternatives it considered. We agree.
A district court's disposition order must contain written findings of fact to support the disposition ordered and must set forth in writing: (1) why the public safety and the best interests of the child are served by the disposition ordered, and (2) what alternative dispositions were recommended to the court and why those recommendations were not ordered. Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 2(A)(1), (2). A trial court's failure to make the statutorily required disposition findings constitutes reversible error. In re Welfare of N.T.K., 619 N.W.2d 209, 212 (Minn. App. 2000).
Here, the district court made the required best-interests and public-safety findings and addressed those findings in its disposition order. But with respect to alternative dispositions, the order provides only why the alternative dispositions considered by the district court were not appropriate; the order does not identify what these alternatives were.
The state argues that various alternatives were addressed by the district court at the disposition hearing. Upon review of the record, we find that the district court did discuss particular alternatives at the disposition hearing. But the court's general statement that the alternative dispositions "do not adequately address the medical and/or psychological needs of the juvenile" does not satisfy the statutory requirement for written findings in the court's disposition order. See In re Welfare of L.B., 404 N.W.2d 341, 346 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating omission of written findings constitutes reversible error even if record indicates court considered options and had good reasons for its choice). The district court's failure to make adequate written findings to support its disposition requires reversal and remand for the district court to make the statutorily required findings.
Least-Drastic Step Necessary
Finally, J.F.T. argues that the district court's disposition was not the "least-drastic step necessary" to restore him to law-abiding conduct because he was making remarkable progress at Leo Hoffman Center without sex-offender registration. Again J.F.T. takes issue with the requirement that he register as a sex offender, but this time in the context of the district court's disposition. We need not elaborate on this argument. As discussed earlier, because J.F.T. was found delinquent for committing criminal sexual conduct, Minnesota law mandates that he register as a sex offender. Therefore, we will not disturb this part of the district court's disposition order.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.