State v. Lyle

Decision Date23 August 1923
Docket Number11289.
PartiesSTATE v. LYLE.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

Appeal from General Sessions Circuit Court of Aiken County; Hayne F Rice, Judge.

Milton A. Lyle was convicted of uttering a forged check, and he appeals. Reversed, and new trial ordered.

Gary C.J., dissenting.

Wm. M Smoak and Sawyer & Gyles, all of Aiken, and McClure & Hale, of Trenton, Ga., for appellant.

R. L. Gunter, Sol., and Hendersons and D. W. Gaston, Jr., all of Aiken, for the State.


The defendant was convicted May, 1922, of uttering, January 12, 1922, a forged check upon the Farmers' & Merchants' Bank of Aiken, S.C. From the sentence imposed he has appealed upon 79 exceptions.

The defense was an alibi, and, broadly stated, the sole issue of fact in the court below was whether the defendant was the identical person who uttered the forged check. Since the exceptions are almost wholly directed to assignment of error in the admission and exclusion of evidence, a somewhat extended review of the evidentiary facts is essential to a proper understanding of the legal questions sought to be raised and to a fair appraisal of appellant's contentions as to the commission of prejudicial error. The exceptions thus lend themselves to the division of the case into its two main branches as chronologically developed in the evidence. The state's case will therefore be first outlined, and the assignments of error in the admission of evidence disposed of, following which the defendant's case will be outlined, and the exceptions relating to exclusion of evidence considered.

On January 12, 1922, between the hours of 9:30 a. m., and 12 o'clock m., a young white man walked into the Farmers' & Merchants' Bank, in the city of Aiken. He introduced himself to Mr. J. C. Thomas, a receiving and paying teller, to whom he was a total stranger, as "E. P. Gaines," and stated that he desired to open an account. In response to questions, he stated that he lived about 8 miles from Aiken, on the Columbia road, near Mr. Piper and Mr. Courtney; that he got his mail at box 49, route No. 2; that he had formerly lived out from Columbia; that he was married, and had one child; and that he had been recommended to that bank by Mr. Piper. He presented a check for $790.32, purporting to have been signed by "G. E. Owens, per L. C. Eubanks," a well-known and reputable local cotton dealer, payable to "E. P. Gaines," and drawn on the Bank of Western Carolina, another Aiken bank. Mr. Thomas opened his window, and the stranger wrote the indorsement "E. P. Gaines" on the back of the check. The check was deposited and an account opened in the name of "E. P. Gaines." The pseudo-customer then indicated that he wished to get a part of the money, and checked on his new account for $292.30, which amount was paid him in cash. He also signed an address and signature card. Mr. thomas saw him write the name "E. P. Gaines" three times--on the Owens check, on his check for $292.30, and on the signature card. The transaction occupied from five to ten minutes. In the course of the interview "Gaines" discussed with Mr. Thomas the price of cotton; said that it was hard to sell cotton for 17 cents when it had cost 30 cents, that he was going to make it cheaper "this year," and "scratched his head a little." He was dressed in ordinary working clothes; looked the part of a good country farmer. In the bank at the same time Gaines was there was another stranger, apparently unconnected in any way with Gaines. Thomas suspected nothing wrong. The "Owens" check went to the Bank of Western Carolina for clearing not later than 1:30 p. m. It was returned within a few minutes of 2 p. m. marked "Forgery." Thereupon Mr. Thomas looked for "Gaines" in Aiken, but Gaines had disappeared. The interview with Gaines was on Thursday. Mr. Thomas saw the defendant, Lyle, at the Terminal Hotel, Augusta, Ga., about 6:30 o'clock the following Sunday morning in a room occupied by Lyle and J. C. Westberry. Thomas says he recognized Lyle before he got out of his bed. He then and thereafter positively identified the defendant, Lyle, as the E. P. Gaines who had uttered the forged check, and identified his roommate, J. C. Westberry, as the other stranger who had been in the bank when Lyle, as Gaines, was passing the forged check.

Upon the foundation thus laid it is the state's theory that the burden of proving the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt required the erection of an evidential structure that would completely encompass two points: (1) That the defendant, Lyle, was the identical person who, as E. P. Gaines, passed the forged check as charged; and (2) that it was uttered with guilty knowledge or criminal intent. To that end the state offered and introduced, over defendant's objection, the following testimony: (1) That of Pardue, teller of the Bank of Western Carolina, to the effect that between 10 and 12 on this same morning of January 12, 1922, in Aiken, S. C., the defendant, Lyle, then a total stranger, under the name of Art Wilson, had presented to him and cashed another forged G. E. Owens check for $182.70, drawn on his bank; (2) that of Schroeder, assistant cashier of the First National Bank, to the effect that, between 10:30 and 12 o'clock on the same morning, in Aiken, S. C., the defendant, Lyle, then a total stranger, had presented to him another forged G. E. Owens check for $794.60 upon which he had opened an account for $500 and had received in cash $294.60 under the name of "E. J. Willis," which name was indorsed on the check when presented, and which name the witness saw Lyle sign on the signature card, giving his address as "R. 2, box 49, Aiken," and that J. C. Westberry was also in his bank at the time of the transaction with Lyle; (3) that of Bell, assistant cashier of a Griffin, Ga., bank, to the effect that on the morning of January 3, 1922, between 9 and 10 o'clock, in Griffin, Ga., the defendant, Lyle, then unknown to him, had presented a check payable to R. T. Edwards, and so indorsed, and under that name had opened an account for $500, and received in cash $350, after returning, with the name "R. T. Edwards" written thereon, a blank signature card, which had been handed him by the cashier; (4) that of Mrs. Bray, assistant cashier of a bank in Athens, Ga., to the effect that on December 30, 1921, in Athens, the defendant Lyle, then a stranger, presented a check signed by a local cotton factor, payable to "A. S. Harper," in the sum of $878.60, indorsed the check, and signed a signature card in her presence in the name of A. S. Harper, opened an account in that name for $500, and received in cash $278.60; (5) that of Hammett, an assistant cashier of a bank in La Grange, Ga., to the effect that on November 23, 1921, between 9 and 10 o'clock a. m., the defendant, Lyle, then a stranger, presented a forged check for $987.40, opened an account for $500, and received in cash $487.40, under the name of "A. J. Martin." All of said witnesses positively identified the defendant, Lyle, after his arrest in Augusta and imprisonment in Aiken, as the person, who, under another name, at the times and places indicated, had passed fraudulent checks, and had left in their possession certain specimens of handwriting, all of which were produced on the trial, except the writing on the check passed to Hammett, which check had been lost.

The foregoing testimony was followed by evidence directed to establishing by a comparison of handwriting that the signature "E. P. Gaines" on the forged check, for the utterance of which the defendant, Lyle, was on trial, was the handwriting of Lyle. To that end the state introduced, over objection, the register of the Terminal Hotel, of Augusta, Ga., January 14, 1922, in which the defendant had written "J. C. Westberry, Chattanooga," and "M. A. Lyle, Chattanooga;" the signature of the defendant, "M. A. Lyle," written in the property book of the police department of Augusta, after his arrest, and a card upon which the defendant, after his arrest, in the presence of Whitehead, a detective, and Goodson, a policeman, at Whitehead's instance, had written the names "M. A. Lyle," "J. C. Westberry," "E. P. Gaines," "E. J. Willis," and "Art Wilson." The state then introduced, over objection, the testimony of three experts, all bankers of Aiken, S. C., to the effect that the handwriting on the hotel register, on the property book of the police department, and on the card written by Lyle at the instance of the police officers after his arrest, and the handwriting on the E. P. Gaines check and signature card and on the various other checks and signature cards introduced, were the same handwriting; that is, the handwriting of the same person.

Such, in outline, was the state's case in chief. The numerous exceptions based upon objections to the evidence introduced by the state along the lines indicated advance two general propositions.

First. It is contended that the admission in evidence of the testimony of Pardue and Schroeder, the other Aiken bankers and of Bell, Hammett, and Mrs. Bray, the Georgia bankers, and of the writings identified by them, tending to prove the commission by the defendant of other distinct crimes similar to the crime laid in the indictment, was prejudicially erroneous. That contention is grounded upon the familiar and salutary general rule, universally recognized and firmly established in all English-speaking countries, that evidence of other distinct crimes committed by the accused may not be adduced merely to raise an inference or to corroborate the prosecution's theory of the defendant's guilt of the particular crime charged. Bishop, New Crim. Proc. 1120; State v. Owens (S. C.) 117 S.E. 537; People v. Molineux, 168 N.Y. 264,...

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