Regarding the Use of Evidence in Court Proceedings

Okay, I’m rereading The Indomitable Tin Goose which is a biography of Preston Tucker, and his efforts to build a car, and when it’s discussing the trial of Tucker, it mentions that the prosecution continually referred to the SEC report on Tucker, but this report was never even entered into evidence, nor was the defense ever allowed to read the report. I’m wondering how this is possible. It seems to me that for the prosecution to continually mention a document in it’s efforts to build it’s case, that it would have to be entered into evidence, or the defense could motion to have all comments related to that document thrown out. Based on the account of the trial, that didn’t happen.

Am I wrong in this? I don’t see how the judge could allow the prosecutor to say things like, "On page XXX, of the SEC report on the Tucker Corporation, you stated that. . . . " yet not demand that the report itself be entered in as evidence. Strikes me rather unfair to have the prosecution refer to something that the defense can’t see. So what am I missing here? Is it, in fact, perfectly acceptable i a court trial to refer to something like a book or a report which hasn’t been entered into evidence? Was there no way for the defense to force the SEC to give them a copy of the report?

I’m no lawyer, but aren’t SEC reports a matter of public record? If so, I see no reason why the defense wouldn’t be able to at least look at it.

There is a nice summary of events here that shows that the report had already been released to the press before Tucker saw it. Presumably they did have a copy. In my uninformed opinion I don’t imagine that the report itself would constitute evidence rather it contained the allegations that the SEC sought to prove. The actual evidence would be the information relied upon for the report.

Former Supreme Court Judge Floyd Thompson acted as the attorney for Floyd Cerf, the broker who handled the stock issue for the Tucker Corporation so I assume all was above board.

I will be interested to see what a lawyer thinks. Thanks for posting this I will see if I can find the DVD of the movie. I had forgotten all about it.

Is it possible that they are using the SEC report to impeach the witness? I don’t know factually what the situation is, but impeachment evidence doesn’t come in. It’s collateral to the trial. In other words, because the impeachment evidence doesn’t have anything to do with the facts of the trial, but instead merely shows that the witness is lying, biased, prejudiced, etc., it isn’t admitted but can be read to the jury when the witness is confronted with it.

My other WAG is prior inconsistent statement. Same type of deal, but I’d have to check to see if that comes in. That’s all I’ve got.

Actually, the report had been leaked to certain members of the press. Tucker’s lawyers had been unable to get a copy of the report, which was rumored to be 800 pages long. And I would think that the report would constitute evidence, since it was the report itself which led to the court action by the SEC.

One of the things not mentioned by the film is that the SEC had a hard on for Tucker from the moment he announced he was going to be building his car. They didn’t wait for him to start selling stock before they became interested. They were poking around in his business shortly after the first article on Tucker appeared in print. At this point in time, he hadn’t even begun working on a stock issue, so I’m not sure what made the SEC think that they had jurisdiction in the matter.

So what was so great about this car, anyway?

You mean besides the fact that it could outperform the other cars of the day, that it had a host of safety features not found on cars of that era (and some not found on cars of today), and that Tucker was one of the few car makers concerned with fuel economy in a time of cheap gas? Not much, really.

Dewey? Minty? manhattan? Anybody with a legal background?

I’m afraid I can’t lend much help, but a few thoughts based on that one summary linked above.

First, in the minds of the jury the prosecutor apparently could not use the report to convict Tucker – he was acquitted.

Next, prior to an actual trial, it’s fairly common for prosecutors to make it difficult or even impossible to review all the evidence against someone. Hank Greenberg of AIG asserted his Fifth Amendment rights today in a deposition precisely because, according to his lawyers, he received documents too late to review them. If the Commission (actually the justice department, which goes to court on the Commission’s behalf in most criminal cases) wanted to enter the report into evidence at trial, they would have had to turn it over to the defense at some point – it’s unclear whether they did so or if they did not enter the document but merely used information from it as a basis for the court case.

Finally, the link’s assertion that “The SEC’s case had to show that the Tucker car could not be built, or if built, would not perform as advertised” is simply not true. I don’t know the particulars of the case, but a stock-fraud case could be built on any number of other bases, including unrealistic projections, incorrect information about the status of the company at the time of the stock sales (whether or not the company subsequently “caught up”), inadequate disclosure of the risks, or even simply selling stock to too many people but failing to register the sales with the Commission.

I’d have to learn a lot more about the SEC’s beef to opine any further.

Thanks. I’ve tried to find online documentation of the trial, but haven’t had any luck. The records are supposed to be stored at the National Archives branch in Chicago (ironically they’re located near the Tucker plant), but I can’t get there to check them. If you’ve seen the film, the trial is reasonably accurate as to what happened. The SEC accused Tucker of not building the car and cooking the books. They did, however, seem to focus on the idea that the car wasn’t what Tucker promised. It’s true that the original prototype was just a rough mock up, and didn’t have some of the features, but the cars that rolled off the assembly line had the bulk of the features Tucker promised (and those that were lacking did so because of engineering constraints).

From what I gather, at no point during the trial, did the SEC make the report available to the defense. It was, however, leaked to certain members of the press, who were later called to testify about what the report contained. (In a case a few years later, which also involved Sen. Homer Ferguson, the identical thing happened, only this time, the press hammered away at Ferguson for leaking the documents. It may have, in fact, led directly to him losing his bid for reelection a few years later.)

Obviously, Tucker was cleared on all charges, but the trial took something like two years (and the defense didn’t make a closing argument, since they felt the government had failed to prove their case) and it was the start of the trial that gave the WAA the justification it needed to yank the plant from Tucker’s control (even though the rent on it had been paid in advance).

IANAL, but it strikes me as such a miscarriage of justice (and even the judge during the proceedings expressed frustration with the government’s actions) that there should have been some way the defense could have gotten the whole thing thrown out early on.

Heh. It looks like “The Truth about People v Tucker et. al.” would make some law student a winning law review article. If you wanted to get someone started, here is the Commission’s 1947 annual report, which references the earlier action against him. And here is a 1952 Senate report beating up the SEC for taking too long before going after him.

I found this statement in your second link particularly interesting

Kaiser-Frazer did a number of questionable things and never got called on it by the SEC. I gotta say that I have to suspect K-F had someone in the government on it’s payroll, since not only did they get a pass from the SEC, but in several instances, when K-F was bidding on things being auctioned by the WAA, quite often the auctions went to K-F even though they weren’t the highest bidder. (The requirements would get changed, thus necessitating the throwing out of all previous bids, and in at least one case, the WAA simply awarded the auction to K-F even though their bid was nowhere near what the other higher bids had been for.)