Thursday, April 14, 2011

Barry Bonds Convicted For Talking About Fishing

In a bizarre verdict that seems unlikely to survive the certain legal challenges to come, the jury in the Bonds case did not convict on any counts of perjury, but convicted based on a finding of "obstruction of justice." So the jury did not find that Bonds lied to the grand jury, but did find that he obstructed justice through his grand jury testimony. How was this possible?

Here are the relevant portions of the jury instruction on "obstruction of justice" that led to the conviction:

(18 U.S.C. § 1503)

The defendant is charged in Count Five with obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1503. In order for the defendant to be found guilty of Count 5, the government must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

1. The defendant corruptly, that is, for the purpose of obstructing justice,

2. obstructed, influenced, or impeded, or endeavored to obstruct, influence, or impede the grand jury proceeding in which defendant testified,

3. by knowingly giving material testimony that was intentionally evasive, false, or misleading.

A statement was material if it had a natural tendency to influence, or was capable of influencing, the decision of the grand jury.

The government alleges that the underlined portion of the following statements constitute material testimony that was intentionally evasive, false or misleading. In order for the defendant to be found guilty of Count 5, you must all agree that one or more of the following statements was material and intentionally evasive, false or misleading, with all of you unanimously agreeing as to which statement or statements so qualify ...

Statement C:

Q: Did Greg ever give you anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?

A: I’ve only had one doctor touch me. And that’s my only personal doctor. Greg, like I said, we don’t get into each others’ personal lives. We’re friends, but I don’t – we don’t sit around and talk baseball, because he knows I don’t want – don’t come to my house talking baseball. If you want to come to my house and talk about fishing, some other stuff, we’ll be good friends, you
come around talking about baseball, you go on. I don’t talk about his business. You know what I mean? …

Q: Right.

A: That’s what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that – you know, that – I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see… "

So, was the U.S. Attorney incapable of asking a follow-up question to get an answer as to whether or not Anderson ever injected him? No, there was a specific denial that Anderson injected Bonds in a different portion of the grand jury testimony. Did Bonds' rambling answer prevent the government from obtaining the information that they needed? No. Did Bonds' answer prevent the government from obtaining any convictions in the BALCO case? No. So how exactly is this "obstruction of justice"?

This is certainly far from over. My prediction? This single count on which the jury convicted Bonds will not survive the upcoming legal challenges.

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