Do Prosecutors Need An Eyewitness To Convict An Armed Robbery Suspect?
Aggravated robbery is how Texas law defines the crime of committing a robbery while using or exhibiting a deadly weapon. In other words, if someone pulls a gun on a store clerk and demands the contents of the cash register, that is aggravated robbery. This is a first-degree felony in Texas. So even if nobody is shot or injured in the course of the robbery, a person convicted of the crime could face decades–even life–in prison.
Texas Man Receives 35-Year Sentence for Stealing $44
Obviously, prosecutors need to prove–beyond a reasonable doubt–that the defendant committed the armed robbery. You might think this requires a positive identification, such as testimony from the victim that they saw the defendant commit the crime. But that is not always the case. Prosecutors may rely on purely circumstantial evidence to establish the identity of an armed robber even if there is no direct identification.
A recent decision from the Texas First District Court of Appeals, English v. State, provides a useful illustration. This case involved a 2017 convenience store robbery. It was the very scenario we described above: A man walked into the store, pointed a gun at the clerk, and demanded the money in the cash register. The robber concealed their face using a plastic bag. The clerk turned over $46. After the robber left, the clerk called the local police.
The clerk could not make an identification of the robber. The police reviewed surveillance video from the store’s cameras. About 90 minutes later, an officer saw a man at a nearby car wash that he thought looked like the robber. That man–the defendant–was initially arrested on an outstanding warrant.
At a nearby location, the officers found a blue polo shirt. The store clerk said the robber had worn a “dark shirt” without recalling any additional details. Nevertheless, the police concluded the blue polo shirt belonged to the robber. They also believed the defendant was the robber.
Prosecutors charged the defendant with aggravated robbery. At trial, a police officer testified that he thought the defendant was the robber based on the fact he wore the same shoes as the man recorded in the surveillance video. The defendant also fit the general description of the robber–notably that he was African-American, about 5-foot-10, and had short hair. Additional testimony also revealed the defendant lacked an alibi for the time of the robbery.
The jury ultimately convicted the defendant and he received a 35-year prison sentence. On appeal, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against him. The First District rejected this challenge and upheld the defendant’s conviction. The appellate court noted that “[e]yewitness identification is not required for a conviction,” and that the jury could infer the defendant was the robber based on the circumstantial evidence presented.
Contact Attorney Keith B. French Today
Many people facing serious criminal charges think they have nothing to worry about if an eyewitness cannot make a positive identification. But that is not how the law works. Even circumstantial evidence can mean a life sentence. That is why you need to work with an experienced Pearland criminal defense lawyer who will zealously represent you at trial. Contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, if you need to speak with an attorney right away.