Weekly Case Summaries: July 6, 2012

Texas Courts of Appeals

Cooper v. State    

No. 03-10-00348-CR    06/27/12

Issue 1

Were convictions for both aggravated robbery causing bodily injury and aggravated robbery by threat in connection with the same victim secured in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause?

Holding 1

No, because: 1) the offenses are distinct and separate, the former a result-oriented offense and the latter a conduct-oriented offense; and 2) the defendant failed to challenge the convictions at trial, and distinct criminal acts may have supported the defendant’s convictions for robbery by threat and robbery causing bodily injury as to each of the victims—either as the primary actor or a party. Read opinion

Issue 2

Was the defendant entitled to a new trial because the State failed to disclose until after conviction evidence that its DNA expert had been reprimanded for quality-control issues related to her laboratory work?

Holding 2

No. The defendant failed to establish a reasonable probability that the outcome of his trial would have been different if the State had disclosed evidence of the expert’s work history. The head of that DNA lab testified that incidents of contamination are not uncommon in labs and do not compromise final test results. When contamination occurs, DNA analysis is repeated to ensure sound results. And in this case, multiple analysts in the lab double-checked the expert’s work and found it to be free of error.  

Commentary

This is a particularly nasty robbery, filled with mayhem for no better reason than one of the bad guys felt like “hitting a lick.” This case provides a good background for supporting a change in the law that would permit the judge to stack multiple robbery sentences arising from a single trial.

The Double Jeopardy issue is technically interesting but legally unlikely to make any waves. The sentences will run concurrently, and there was no trial objection, so why even care? Nonetheless, this case does support the result of multiple convictions/sentences for robbery involving a single victim if the robbery involves separate incidents of bodily injury and a threat. The discussion of that legal theory does involve speculation that the jury applied party-liability to the threat-based robbery. That’s a lot of what if’s.

The post-trial disclosure of DNA issues is perhaps more likely to get everyone’s attention. The DA chose to send out an e-mail to all local defense attorneys, alerting them that a complaint against an analyst had been filed and investigated by the Austin Police Department. These types of complaints, which are easy enough for disgruntled employees to generate and difficult to disprove, are becoming more common. This DA chose immediate public disclosure and a quick investigation to inoculate against any accusation of prosecutorial misconduct. Amid all the claims of innocence and misconduct that currently are circulating, good to see a DA handle the issue well.

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