In Matter of the Welfare of C.R.C

This case is not covered by Casetext's citator
Minnesota Court of AppealsDec 18, 2001
No. C9-01-500. (Minn. Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2001)

No. C9-01-500.

Filed December 18, 2001.

Appeal from the District Court, St. Louis County, File No. J800650708.

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Charlann E. Winking, Assistant Public Defender, (for appellant C.R.C.)

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, and

Alan L. Mitchell, St. Louis County Attorney, Leslie E. Beiers, Assistant County Attorney, (for respondent state)

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

This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).



C.R.C. appeals from an adjudication of delinquency finding that he negligently set a fire. C.R.C. argues that the juvenile court erred in denying his motion to suppress his confession and further argues insufficiency of the evidence. We affirm.


On March 27, 2000, there was a fire in a middle school restroom wastebasket. Larry Udesen, the assistant principal, identified several suspects, including C.R.C. Udesen called the suspected students to his office. C.R.C. wanted to contact his mother before being questioned, but Udesen told him to wait until after they talked. On prior occasions C.R.C.'s mother had asked the school not to contact her when problems arose with C.R.C. Udesen and Mitchell Clausen, the principal, questioned C.R.C. about the fire for approximately 15 minutes; C.R.C. denied any involvement. After all of the suspected students were questioned, Udesen decided that C.R.C. was the primary suspect. Udesen learned that C.R.C. was the first student who went into the restroom and was also the student who reported that he smelled matches in the restroom. Udesen searched the students' lockers and found matches in C.R.C.'s locker.

Udesen informed Dean Symens, the school liason officer, about the fire. Symens, in plain clothes, questioned C.R.C. in his office for approximately 12 minutes. The office door was open during this time. C.R.C.'s mother could not be reached and no school administrator was present during the interview. Symens asked C.R.C. about the fire and took some notes. C.R.C. again denied any involvement in the fire.

Officer James Christensen, an arson investigator with the Duluth Police Department, went to the school to interview C.R.C. Prior to the interview, Udesen unsuccessfully attempted to contact C.R.C.'s mother. C.R.C. was brought into a room with Christensen, Symens, and Udesen. Both officers were in plain clothes. Christensen testified that he introduced himself to C.R.C. and told him that he had been informed that the school had tried to contact his mother. Christensen asked C.R.C. if he knew his mother's whereabouts so they could contact her, and he said that he did not. Christensen told C.R.C. that he was investigating the fire and that he would like to talk to C.R.C. about it. Christensen advised C.R.C. that he was not under arrest, that he could leave at any time, and that what he said could be used against him in possible future charges. C.R.C. told Christensen that he understood and agreed to talk to him about the fire. At first C.R.C. denied any involvement in the fire.

C.R.C., who was a 14-year-old eighth grader at the time, qualified for special education services in emotional and behavioral disorders. His reading level was consistent with that of a third grader. C.R.C. testified that he was told that they knew he had started the fire and that he should just get it off his chest and admit it. C.R.C. testified that he asked if he could call his lawyer, and they said not right now. Symens testified that C.R.C. never requested permission to contact an attorney and that if he had, they would have stopped the interview.

C.R.C. testified that he admitted to flicking matches at the garbage can. C.R.C. then wrote out a statement about what happened and was given lunch. The interview lasted between 40 minutes and 1 hour, including the time it took C.R.C. to eat lunch and write the statement. The door to the office was closed. Christensen testified that he did not make any threats or promises, that he did not use any coercive or stress-inducing tactics, and that none of C.R.C.'s physical needs was denied.

The state filed a juvenile delinquency petition charging C.R.C. with arson in the fourth degree, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.5631, subd. 2 (Supp. 1999), and one count of negligent fires, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.576, subd. 1 (1998). At the omnibus hearing the juvenile court denied C.R.C.'s motion to suppress statements he made to the police officers and/or school officials. The parties dispute what happened next. C.R.C. contends that he proceeded to a bench trial on stipulated facts pursuant to State v. Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d 854 (Minn. 1980). The state contends that C.R.C. pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor negligent fires in exchange for the state's dismissal of the gross misdemeanor fourth-degree arson charge. The juvenile court adjudicated C.R.C. delinquent and imposed disposition. This appeal followed.


1. When reviewing a pretrial order on a motion to suppress evidence, we may "independently review the facts and determine, as a matter of law, whether the district court erred in suppressing — or not suppressing — the evidence." State v. Harris, 590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn. 1999) (citation omitted).

An incriminating statement made to the police by a juvenile will be regarded as voluntary if the totality of the circumstances show that the statement was the product of a free-will decision. This inquiry includes a consideration of factors such as the child's age, maturity, intelligence, education, experience, the presence or absence of parents, and the ability to comprehend.

The finding of the trial court as to the admissibility of [the juvenile's] confession will not be reversed unless it is clearly erroneous, but this court can make an independent determination of the voluntariness of the confession based on the record.

In re Welfare of G.M., 560 N.W.2d 687, 696 (Minn. 1997) (citations omitted).

C.R.C. argues that the juvenile court erred in failing to suppress his admissions because they were not made voluntarily. C.R.C. relies on two cases of this court to support his argument, In re Welfare of R.J.E., 630 N.W.2d 457 (Minn.App. 2001), review granted (Minn. Sept. 11, 2001), and In re Welfare of G.S.P., 610 N.W.2d 651 (Minn.App. 2000). In both decisions this court reversed a denial of a suppression motion concluding that the juvenile in each case was subject to custodial interrogation requiring a Miranda warning. R.J.E., 630 N.W.2d at 461; G.S.P., 610 N.W.2d at 659. Here, however, C.R.C. concedes that he "was not technically in custody" and therefore not entitled to Miranda warning.

Christensen testified that he advised C.R.C. that he was not under arrest, that he could leave at any time, and that what he said could be used against him in possible future charges. C.R.C. told Christensen that he understood and agreed to talk to him about the fire. C.R.C. had given a written statement before on a separate matter. C.R.C. testified that he knew he was not under arrest and that he knew from previous juvenile court experience that he could talk to a lawyer if he chose. C.R.C. also testified that his lawyer had previously told him "[n]ot to talk to cops" and to call his attorney, because "it can be used against you if you talk to them." C.R.C. testified that he knew all this at the time of the interview but he still agreed to talk. Based on the totality of the circumstances presented in the record, we conclude that C.R.C.'s statements were voluntary. Therefore, the juvenile court did not err in admitting C.R.C.'s statements.

2. In considering a claim of insufficient evidence, this court's review is limited to a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the finding of delinquency, is sufficient to allow the factfinder to reach the verdict that it did. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). The reviewing court must assume the factfinder believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary. State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989). The reviewing court will not disturb the verdict if the factfinder, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude the defendant was guilty of the charged offense. State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988). "In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence in criminal cases, the same standard of review will apply to cases heard with or without a jury." State v. Hughes, 355 N.W.2d 500, 502 (Minn.App. 1984) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Jan. 2, 1985). Determinations of the credibility and weight to be given to the testimony are for the factfinder alone. State v. Lodermeier, 539 N.W.2d 396, 397 (Minn. 1995).

The state contends that the procedure in Lothenbach was not followed, and, because C.R.C. pleaded guilty to negligent fires as part of the plea agreement, he waived his right to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. The procedure calls "for the defendant to enter a plea of not guilty, waive his right to a jury trial, and then stipulate to the prosecution's case." Lothenbach, 296 N.W.2d at 857.

The traditional viewpoint in Minnesota, as well as elsewhere, has been that a guilty plea by a counseled defendant operates as a waiver of all nonjurisdictional defects, including Fourth Amendment claims.

Id. Regardless of the contradictory labeling of the procedure, C.R.C.'s expectation that he was preserving his right to appeal is clear from the record. The juvenile court expressly stated on the record that C.R.C. "preserve[d] his right to appeal that determination of guilt and any and all issues flowing from the Omnibus decision of the Court."

Minn. Stat. § 609.576, subd. 1(b)(1) (1998), provides:

Whoever is culpably negligent in causing a fire to burn or get out of control thereby causing damage or injury to another, and as a result thereof:

* * * *

(b) property of another is injured, thereby, is guilty of a crime and may be sentenced as follows:

(1) to imprisonment for not more than 90 days or to payment of a fine of not more than $700, or both, if the value of the property damage is under $300.

C.R.C. contends that the element of injury to the property of another was not met. C.R.C. relies on In re Welfare of K.A.Z., 266 N.W.2d 167, 169 (Minn. 1978), to argue that "[w]hile the state does not need to prove a specific dollar amount, it is clear that the property must have some value." But K.A.Z. involved a third-degree arson charge, not a negligent fire charge. Id. K.A.Z. held that if property is of some value, no matter how little, its burning may be the subject of the criminal charge of arson. Id.

Here, there is no question that there was a fire in the wastebasket, causing the automatic smoke alarm and sprinklers to go off. We conclude that there was sufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's finding of delinquency.