Spotlight On: Gary M. Wilson - November, 2014

Please tell us about your background, where you practice, and how long you have been involved with criminal defense.

I’m a proud Spartan (Criminal Justice, 1984), and I attended Detroit College of Law in the golden “olden” days before it became right-field for the new Comerica Park.  I was fortunate to have earned a full scholarship, but also worked through law school, including a memorable stint as a Sales Executive for Turner Broadcasting Sales when cable television was not an easy sell outside of the South.  Working closely with Ted Turner and his top staff was a Wild West experience.  Get out there and sell, and if you’re not burning up the company expense account you’re not trying hard enough!  Great training for a young litigator because, after all, we’re all selling something!

I’m a Grosse Pointe native (my oldest son is the 5th generation Wilson to live on the same street), and although my office has always been in Grosse Pointe, I accept cases all over the Lower Peninsula.  I haven’t been invited to the UP.  Yet.

I’ve been a criminal defense attorney since 1992, when I left the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office after almost 4 years.  My heart and my guts are in defense work.  This is where I’ve been able to channel my dislike for authority and my passion for the underdog.

Defense of OWI and OUID (drugs) charges is a large part of my practice, but my experience and caseload spans the gamut of criminal defense work.  I especially enjoy defending cases involving car crashes and extensive crash investigations, accident reconstruction issues, and defending allegations of minor and serious injuries or deaths.

Please tell us about an interesting case in which you were involved.

My “career case” so far was an Operating Under the Influence Causing Death involving a single-vehicle crash on a snowy and deserted country road in Monroe County.  The driver of the Ford F350 pick-up lost control and went into two ditches and stopped when it slammed into a telephone pole, ejecting the driver thru the driver’s side passenger window.  The truck landed on the dead guy.

My client’s license had been suspended for 20+ years, and the truck was titled in his company’s name.  There were no witnesses.

What were the theories of the parties?

The Sheriff and Monroe County Prosecutor’s office couldn’t live with the possibility that my client was not the driver.  He was charged.  Their crash “reconstruction” was a field day of conjecture, missed data points, bad assumptions and a desire to frame my client.  Oh, and evidence tampering.

The Sheriff’s own photos showed that a blown tire had changed - miraculously overnight and while in their custody- from a blackwall to a whitewall.  Their theory was that my client had been driving.  My theory was that they were trying to frame an innocent man.  The jury agreed.

Were experts needed?

Definitely.  I brought in nationally-known crash reconstructionist Sal Fariello of Eastern Forensic Sciences Group from Gainesville, Florida.  Mr. Fariello had been the sole reconstruction expert in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case.  He proved that not only was my client not driving, but that he was in the bed of the pick-up truck at the time of the crash.  He had been tossed out into the snow at the first swerve that the now-dead driver made as he tried to regain control of the truck.

What trends do you see in the criminal law in Michigan?

I see two trends and although they seem mutually exclusive, they’re both inevitable in this economy.  First, the trend toward specialization is changing our practices.  This is true in criminal defense generally and drunk driving defense in particular.  In addition to Constitutional and criminal procedure law, the “state of the practice” now requires not only knowledge of laboratory procedures, physiology, pharmacology, but the ability to simplify these concepts to help jurors find the courage to bring back a two-word verdict.  OWI defense is not something to dabble in.

The second trend is the unfortunate glut of attorneys who can’t find work, and many assume that they can “do” criminal defense because they took the class in law school.  Cutting your teeth in a practice where your clients’ lives literally hang in the balance is a bad deal for everyone.

Any advice for other lawyers?

For the younger lawyers, find mentors who can share not only their knowledge, but also their passion.  Criminal defense lawyers are at their best when they are teaching new lawyers, and as the old saying goes, “it is by teaching that we learn.”  I’ve been fortunate to have had — and still have —tremendous warriors who have generously taught me how to stand up for my clients’ rights.

For the more seasoned practitioners, be a mentor.  If you can’t make it simple enough to teach someone, you may want to assess your own skill level.  Be generous with your time and talent.  There is plenty of room and plenty of business to go around.  Share what makes you great.

Mr. Wilson’s website:

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor