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The Supreme Court Chamber in the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Supreme Court Digest: June 15, 2022



Domestic Relations

Child Custody; Modification

At issue in this case was whether the District Court erred by applying the endangerment standard of the child-custody modification statute, Minn. Stat. § 518.18(d)(iv), to a noncustodial parent’s motion for joint legal custody of the parties’ child based on their prior stipulation to apply the statutory best-interests standard, as permitted by Minn. Stat. § 518.18(d)(i).  Section 518.18(d) generally provides that to modify a prior custody order, the court must find a change in circumstances of the child or parties, that modification would serve the child’s best interests, and that one of the five additional grounds for modification listed in Minn. Stat. § 518.18(d)(i)–(v) is met.  Here, the noncustodial parent’s modification motion was expressly predicated on § 518.18(d)(i), which provides that the statutory best-interests standard set forth at Minn. Stat. § 518.17 applies if the parties previously agreed in a court-approved writing to the application of that standard.  The District Court instead found that the noncustodial parent failed to establish a prima facie case for a change in custody based on the statutory endangerment standard in § 518.18(d)(iv) and therefore was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his motion for custody modification.  The noncustodial parent challenged the District Court’s order, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Supreme Court held that the District Court erred in applying the endangerment standard of § 518.18(d)(iv), to a custody modification motion when the parties had stipulated, as permitted by § 518.18(d)(i), to application of the best-interests standard. Reversed and remanded.

A20-0749 Woolsey v. Woolsey (Court of Appeals)







In February 2020, a jury found defendant guilty of two counts of first-degree burglary and two counts of second-degree assault.  After the jury announced its verdicts, defendant exercised his right to poll the jury.  Despite several facts in the record tending to show that the jury was composed of the constitutionally required 12 members, and that those members returned unanimous verdicts, the transcript of the jury polling contained only 11 responses.  The 11 responses were unanimously “guilty.”  No person present—the District Court judge, the judge’s clerk, the court reporter, the jury attendants, the attorneys, the jurors, or defendant himself—raised any objections at the time.  Defendant argued for the first time on appeal that, because the record contained only 11 individual responses to jury polling, it is insufficient to prove that he was afforded his constitutional right to a unanimous, 12-person jury.  The State argued that the record adequately supports the verdict and that jury polling is merely one mechanism to ensure a unanimous, 12-person jury.

The Supreme Court held that (1) the omission of a single juror’s response to jury polling in the trial transcript did not establish a violation of defendant’s constitutional right to a unanimous, 12-member jury so long as the record sufficiently demonstrated the existence of other safeguards ensuring that the jury was properly impaneled and returned a unanimous verdict free of coercion or pressure, as was the case here; and (2) defendant was not entitled to relief based on a jury polling error because he did not object during trial, it was not a structural error, and he did not satisfy the plain error doctrine. Affirmed.

A20-1097 State v. Bey (Court of Appeals)

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