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In re Welfare of B.R.C.

March 02, 2004

IN THE MATTER OF THE WELFARE OF B.R.C.


Clay County District Court File No. J4-03-50013

Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Willis, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Where a defense attorney fails to obtain a juvenile defendant's consent on the record before conceding the defendant's guilt to a lesser offense, and the record fails to show that the attorney's strategy was reasonable, prejudice is presumed and a new trial is necessary.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Klaphake, Judge

Reversed and remanded

OPINION

Following a bench trial, appellant B.R.C. was found guilty of aiding and abetting first-degree criminal damage to property for vandalizing equipment and other property belonging to a mining operation. See Minn. Stat. § 609.595, subd. 1(3) (2002) (damage reducing value of property by more than $500). On appeal, he claims that the evidence was insufficient because it consisted solely of circumstantial evidence and uncorroborated accomplice testimony. Appellant further claims that he was denied effective assistance of counsel when his trial attorney conceded that he was only guilty of shooting at an old pickup truck, which the attorney claimed was worth less than $500.

Because counsel failed to obtain appellant's consent before he conceded appellant's guilt and because we will not assume acquiescence when a juvenile is involved and the record fails to show that counsel's strategy was reasonable, we reverse and remand for a new trial. Given our decision on this issue, we need not address appellant's alternative issue challenging the sufficiency of the evidence.

FACTS

Over Labor Day weekend 2002, property owned by Aggregate Industries was damaged. The property was located mainly in the "south" gravel pit, which was leased by Aggregate; a "north" gravel pit, which was located about one mile away, was leased by a different company.

According to Aggregate's safety manager, Mark Bluth, fire extinguishers were set off in a portable office, resulting in damage to computers, bullet holes were discovered in the portable generators, windows were shot out of an operations shack, and a bulldozer caterpillar was missing. Bluth followed the bulldozer's tracks into the north pit. The person who had taken the bulldozer had tried to push another piece of machinery and had damaged the bulldozer's air conditioner. Bluth estimated Aggregate's damages as totaling almost $13,000 and submitted an affidavit of loss to that effect.

On cross-examination, Bluth was questioned about a 1967 Ford F-Series pickup truck that had been damaged. Bluth testified that the truck belonged to Aggregate, that it was operable, and that it cost $904.68 to repair the windows on the truck, which had been shot out.

The day before Aggregate discovered the vandalism, a sheriff's deputy had stopped some minors who were in one of the pits looking for an all terrain vehicle (ATV) that they claimed had broken down. Interviews with the minors eventually led deputies to interview J.G.M., who admitted driving the ATV to the north pit with appellant and P.A.B. that weekend, and who claimed that appellant shot the pickup truck. J.G.M. initially denied that any of them went into the south pit or caused any other damage.

Deputies then interviewed appellant, who denied shooting at any windows or other property and who claimed that J.G.M. caused all of the damage. Appellant claimed that he ...


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