Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bonds convicted for telling the truth

I defended Barry Bonds in his conviction and sentencing, and criticized the unethical prosecutors.

To my surprise, his conviction was just upheld:
Upholding the conviction of Barry Bonds on Friday, a federal appeals court found that factually true testimony, if misleading enough, can obstruct justice.

The case before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco tested the limits of the federal criminal obstruction statute and came down to whether baseball’s home run king had made false, misleading or evasive statements to a grand jury a decade ago in connection to a steroid investigation.

Testifying before a grand jury in 2003, Mr. Bonds was asked whether his trainer, Greg Anderson, ever provided him with injectable substances.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Bonds’ response, which led to his conviction on one count in 2011, obscured his dealings with Mr. Anderson.

The key part of his response was this:
I don’t talk about his business. You know what I mean? …. 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.
The Ninth Circuit said that while factually true, the statement “served to divert the grand jury’s attention away from the relevant inquiry of the investigation.” And the court said it was also misleading because it implied that Mr. Bonds did not know whether his trainer distributed steroids, conflicting with subsequent trial testimony. ...

“Although the obstruction statute has existed for nearly two centuries, the government cannot point to a single case where a defendant has been found guilty of obstruction based on truthful testimony under oath,” Mr. Bonds’ lawyers wrote in their appellate brief.
This shows that if you are unpopular enough, the feds can convict you of just about anything. When Bonds is interviewed, he can just say, "I was only ever convicted of telling the truth."

The ruling reasoned:
We can easily think of examples of responses that are true but nevertheless obstructive. Consider a situation where a prosecutor asks a grand jury witness if the witness drove the getaway car in a robbery. The witness truthfully responds, “I do not have a driver’s license.” This response would be factually true, but it could also imply that he did not drive the getaway car. If the witness did in fact drive the getaway car, his answer, although not in itself false, would nevertheless be misleading, because it would imply that he did not drive the getaway car. It could also be deemed evasive since it did not answer the question.
There is a difference between a grand jury hearing and a police interrogation. We don't convict people based on their unwillingness to incriminate themselves. In the above situation, the prosecutor would normally repeat the question and insist on an answer. In this case, it is plausible that Bonds simply misunderstood the question or thought that his answer was acceptable.

I haven't followed the case against A-Rod, but I am dubious about that also. He faces the longest finite suspension in MLB history, even tho he has not tested positive for drugs and his penalty does not seem to follow any baseball rules. It appears that the league wanted to cut his career short before he breaks too many records, and so the Yankees don't have to pay him so much.

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