The Second Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport recently ruled that former Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Terry Doughty improperly accepted a guilty plea from a Delhi man who maintained his innocence to the charge of attempted indecent behavior with a juvenile.
Derrick Lynn Cooper, of Delhi, was arrested in June 2016 on suspicion of indecent behavior with a juvenile. In April 2017, Cooper entered a guilty plea to attempted indecent behavior with a juvenile and was later sentenced to three and a half years in prison at hard labor, under the terms of the plea agreement.
Cooper appealed the matter, claiming he was forced to sign the guilty plea and that investigators had admitted there was no evidence supporting his arrest.
“Cooper further alleged that he accepted the plea based upon the misleading advice of counsel that there was no defense and that if he did not accept the plea, he would receive a sentence of 20 to 40 years’ imprisonment,” stated the Second Circuit’s ruling, in its recitation of the facts. “He argued that if he had understood that additional evidence would be necessary to establish his guilt at trial, he would have insisted on proceeding to trial.”
Doughty, who is now a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, presided over Cooper’s case.
In its Nov. 8 opinion, the Second Circuit determined the court had improperly found Cooper’s guilty plea to be “free and voluntary.”
“We find Cooper’s consistent assertions of innocence undermine the conclusion that his plea represented a voluntary and intelligent choice among his alternatives,” stated the Second Circuit’s opinion. “We respectfully vacate the guilty plea, set aside the conviction and sentence, and remand for further proceedings.”
Second Circuit Judge Jeff Cox wrote the Nov. 8 opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel that also included Second Circuit Chief Judge Felicia Williams and retired Judge Joe Bleich, serving pro tempore.
In light of Cooper’s guilty plea, he also was notified he would be required to register as a sex offender.
During his plea hearing in 2017, Fifth Judicial District Attorney Mack Lancaster’s office — represented at the time by chief felony prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Doug Wheeler — entered a factual basis for Cooper’s offense.
The Second Circuit’s Nov. 8 opinion included the following exchange in its ruling, emphasizing Cooper’s protests and insistence he was innocent.
“Judge, the facts in this case if we went to trial would be that on the date set forth in the bill of information, this defendant entered the house of where the victim was ultimately was located, he came in contact with he[r], during the course of that contact — contact, he made physical contact with a — in a way with her which would fall within the definition of lewd and lascivious acts under the Statute,” Wheeler said.
Later, Cooper said, “It wasn’t true though.”
“All right,” Doughty said.
“All right, we will say he attempted,” Wheeler said.
“Right attempted,” Doughty said.
“To commit an act...” Wheeler said.
“Attempt. Okay,” Doughty said.
“...which would be defined as lewd or lascivious under this statute,” Wheeler said.
“Okay,” Doughty said.
“That’s a lie,” Cooper said.
“Upon the record before me I find that the plea is entered freely, voluntarily both with an understanding of the nature of these charges and the consequence of the plea, including Mr. Cooper’s understanding of the plea agreement. I also find that it has a factual basis containing all elements of the crime charged,” Doughty said.
The Second Circuit noted that in spite of Cooper stating a desire to plead guilty, his remarks “are a clear protestation of innocence and put the trial court on notice that it needed to ascertain significant factual basis in order to accept his guilty plea.”
“Rather than gain additional clarification of Cooper’s voluntary and intelligent consent to the plea, the trial court erred in ending the inquiry,” stated the Second Circuit’s ruling.