Monday, September 16, 2013
Ninth Circuit Upholds Barry Bonds’ Conviction for Obstruction
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday affirmed Barry Bonds’ conviction on a charge of obstruction of justice, rejecting his challenge to the government’s interpretation of the controlling statute and the evidence used to convict him.
U.S. District Judge Susan Ilston sentenced Bonds to 30 days of house arrest, two years of probation and 250 hours of community service two years ago, but the sentence was stayed pending appeal. Prosecutors had asked for a 15-month sentence on the conviction, which was on a single count of a five-count indictment; one count was dismissed by the government at the close of its case and the jury deadlocked on the other three.
The obstruction charge stemmed from rambling testimony he gave during a 2003 appearance before a grand jury investigating elite athletes’ use of performance-enhancing drugs and the possible laundering of proceeds from sale of PEDs. Judge Mary H. Schroeder said in Friday’s opinion that Bonds’ testimony was “evasive” and capable of misleading investigators and hindering their probe into a performance-enhancing-drug ring centered at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, better known as BALCO.
Like several other prominent athletes who testified before the grand jury, Bonds was granted immunity from criminal prosecution as long as he testified truthfully. But after Bonds repeatedly denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs—he testified he thought he was taking flax seed oil and other legal supplements—prosecutors charged him with obstruction and with making false statements.
Grand Jury Response
Bonds was asked whether his personal trainer, Greg Anderson, had ever injected him with a substance, and he replied by discussing the difficulties of being the son of a famous father. His father, Bobby Bonds, died of cancer in 2003.
Barry Bonds’ godfather is Hall of Famer Willie Mays, his father’s teammate with the San Francisco Giants.
“…I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts,” Bonds told the grand jury. “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.”
When the prosecutor returned to the subject of drugs and asked whether Anderson provided Bonds any drugs that required self-injection, the witness said:
“Greg wouldn’t do that. He knows I’m against that stuff. So, he would never come up to me – he would never jeopardize our friendship like that.”
Misleading and Evasive
The three-judge appeals court panel Friday rejected Bonds’ argument that his rambling testimony didn’t amount to felony obstruction. His appellate attorney, Dennis Riordan, argued that Bonds’ answer was, in fact, true: He felt the pressure of being a child of a celebrity.
But Schroeder said that didn’t matter, because the obstruction statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1503, applies to misleading and evasive statements, even if literally true. She then rejected the defense’s sufficiency-of-the-evidence argument, saying it was obvious Bonds meant to mislead—and obstruct—the grand jury’s investigation.
“The statement served to divert the grand jury’s attention away from the relevant inquiry of the investigation, which was Anderson and BALCO’s distribution of steroids and PEDs,” Schroeder wrote.
The judge went on to reject the argument that the statute doesn’t apply to grand jury witnesses. The U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit have both held that it does, she explained.
Precedent, she said, also requires rejection of Bonds’ argument that the statute is unconstitutional because a person cannot reasonably be expected to understand what it means to “corruptly” impede or interfere with the administration of justice.
Schroeder, whose opinion was joined by Senior Judge Michael Daly Hawkins and Judge Mary H. Murguia, also rejected a challenge to the jury instructions, saying Ilston fairly offered examples of statements by Bonds that could be found to have obstructed justice. The instruction narrowed the indictment, rather than expanded it as the defense argued, the appellate jurist wrote.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag told The Associated Press:
“We are gratified by the court’s decision and believe justice is served.”
Riordan declined to comment.
The case is United States v. Bonds, 11-10669.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company