In August 2007, Anita Baylis learned that her checking account was overdrawn because a check for $1,270 had been cashed that she said she did not write or cash. Baylis told police that 57-year-old Carol Jean Wilson, a longtime friend, had stolen the check from Baylis’s Grosse Pointe, Michigan, home and cashed it.
Wilson was charged with forgery and larceny and went on trial in Wayne County Circuit Court in October 2011.
Prior to trial, Wilson’s lawyer sent a copy of the check to a forensic handwriting analyst, who said he could not give an opinion on whether Wilson or Baylis signed the check without other samples of Baylis’s handwriting.
Although the defense lawyer did obtain samples, he did not send them to the handwriting analyst. The defense attorney later explained that he didn’t want to learn that the analyst believed the signature was made by Wilson because he thought the prosecution would discern it and use it against Wilson.
At the trial, Baylis testified that she invited Wilson to stay with her—as she had done from time to time in the past—and that Wilson stole the blank check from Baylis’s purse and cashed it at a liquor store.
A clerk at the liquor store confirmed that Wilson, who was a regular customer, had cashed the check at the store. The check was numerically executed for $1,270, but written for “Two thousand two hundred seventy.” A fraud expert at the institution where Baylis’s account was held testified that this sort of mistake was commonly found in fraudulent checks.
Baylis admitted that she had asked Wilson to help her in either refinancing or selling her home, but denied the check was related to that activity.
Wilson’s lawyer contended that the check was written by Baylis to compensate Wilson for helping Baylis try to solve her housing issues. Ultimately, however, Wilson was unable to help Baylis and the house went into foreclosure.
On October 14, 2011, a jury convicted Wilson of forgery and larceny. She was sentenced to probation for five years.
Wilson’s appellate lawyer provided the original handwriting samples to the same analyst retained by Wilson’s trial lawyer. The analyst examined 10 samples of Baylis’s handwriting on other checks.
The analyst concluded “to a high degree of probability” that the check for $1,270 had been signed by Baylis. Based on the conclusion, an evidentiary hearing was held to determine if Wilson’s trial lawyer had been constitutionally ineffective and if a new trial was warranted. At the evidentiary hearing, the expert testified to his findings. Wilson’s trial lawyer testified that he didn’t ask the analyst to compare the 10 samples because if the analyst concluded that Wilson signed the check, and then he didn’t call the analyst as a witness, the prosecution would conclude that the analyst agreed that Wilson had forged the check.
The motion for a new trial, however, was denied when the judge found that Wilson’s lawyer’s decision not to press the analyst to compare the 10 samples was a reasonable trial strategy.
On June 4, 2012, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed Wilson’s convictions, holding that Wilson’s trial lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to provide the analyst with the 10 samples. The appeals court ordered a new trial.
The Wayne County District Attorney’s Office appealed the ruling, but on September 30, 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal.
On December 5, 2013, the prosecution dismissed the charges.
– Maurice Possley