344 U.S. 414 (1953), 182, Gordon v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 182
Citation:344 U.S. 414, 73 S.Ct. 369, 97 L.Ed. 447
Party Name:Gordon v. United States
Case Date:February 02, 1953
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 414

344 U.S. 414 (1953)

73 S.Ct. 369, 97 L.Ed. 447



United States

No. 182

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 2, 1953

Argued December 17-18, 1952




Petitioners were convicted in a Federal District Court of unlawfully possessing and transporting goods stolen while in interstate commerce. On cross-examination, a key government witness admitted that (1) prior to the trial, he had given to government agents written statements which conflicted with his testimony incriminating petitioners at the trial, and (2) he had pleaded guilty in another federal court to unlawful possession of the same stolen goods, and had not yet been sentenced.


1. In the circumstances of this case, the trial court erred in denying petitioners' motion for the production and inspection of such conflicting written statements in the possession of the Government. Pp. 417-421.

2. The trial court erred in excluding from evidence a transcript of the proceedings in the other court showing that, in accepting the guilty plea and deferring sentence of this witness, the judge had advised him "to tell the probation authorities the whole story, even though it might involve others." Pp. 421-422.

3. The combination of these two errors was sufficiently prejudicial to require reversal of petitioners' conviction. Pp. 422-423.

196 F.2d 886 reversed.

Petitioners were convicted in a Federal District Court of unlawful possession and transportation of goods stolen while in interstate commerce. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 196 F.2d 886. This Court granted certiorari. 344 U.S. 813. Reversed, p. 423.

Page 415

JACKSON, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners Gordon and MacLeod were convicted on an indictment of four counts, two charging unlawful possession of goods stolen while in interstate commerce1 and two that defendants caused this property to be further transported in interstate commerce.2 The Court of Appeals affirmed,3 and we granted certiorari limited to questions concerning production and admission of documentary evidence tending to impeach the testimony of a prosecution witness.4

The Government proved that film being shipped from Rochester, New York, to Chicago, Illinois, was stolen from a truck in Chicago, and that part of it later had been recovered in Detroit. To implicate the two petitioners, it relied principally on one Marshall, who, in Detroit, had pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of the film. Marshall testified that he and a codefendant, Swartz, who died before trial, on several occasions had driven from Detroit to Chicago and back. On each visit, they had stopped at petitioner Gordon's Chicago jewelry store. On one trip, according to Marshall, Gordon accompanied them to a garage in that city, and there Gordon and a man resembling MacLeod helped to load into into Marshall's car film that was stacked in the garage. A week later, Marshall said, he and Swartz again called on Gordon, when the latter sent them to see "Ken" at an address which he wrote on a piece of paper. At this address, MacLeod identified himself as "Ken," and again the three men loaded film from the garage into Marshall's car.

Page 416

Partial corroboration of Marshall was supplied by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, who had been watching the garage. He testified that, on the latter occasion, he saw Marshall and Swartz drive up to MacLeod's address, whereupon MacLeod removed an old truck from the garage. Later, Swartz and Marshall drove away with film cartons stacked on the back seat of Marshall's car.

Both petitioners took the stand and denied complicity in the theft and knowledge that the film was stolen. While their physical movements as recited by them were not materially different from those related by government witnesses, petitioners gave a different and innocent version of the relationship of their acts to the criminal transactions. Gordon testified that the deceased Swartz was a business acquaintance who asked on the first visit if Gordon knew of a garage where a truck could be temporarily stored. Gordon called MacLeod, who was his partner in a rooming house venture, and told him that he would send two men over who wished to use a garage back of the rooming house. MacLeod testified that he had not known [73 S.Ct. 372] either of the men before they placed a truck in the garage, and that, at their request, he had helped load film from the truck into Marshall's car merely as a favor.

On cross-xamination, Marshall admitted that, between his apprehension and his final statement to the Government, which implicated petitioners, he had made three or four statements which did not. Petitioners requested the trial judge to order the Government to produce these earlier statements. The request was denied. Marshall also admitted that, one week before he made any statement incriminating petitioners, he had pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of the film in a federal court in Detroit. He was still unsentenced, and no date for sentencing had been set, although nine months had elapsed since this plea was received. He denied that...

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