Barry Bonds obstructed justice before a federal grand jury when he tried to duck a question about steroid injections with an evasive and irrelevant answer, a federal appeals court ruled Friday in upholding the felony conviction of baseball's home run king.
A jury in San Francisco deadlocked in 2011 on three charges that Bonds committed perjury when he denied, in 2003 grand jury testimony, that he had ever knowingly used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.
But jurors convicted him of obstructing the panel's investigation after a prosecutor asked him whether his personal trainer had ever given him injectable drugs. Instead of a yes-or-no answer, he launched into a discourse about his "celebrity" childhood, as the son of ex-ballplayer Bobby Bonds, and his friendship with the trainer, and added, "I just don't get into other people's business."
Bonds appealed his conviction, saying he had testified truthfully. But the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said factually accurate testimony can be obstructive if it is intended to throw an investigation off course.
"When factually true statements are misleading or evasive, they can prevent the grand jury from obtaining truthful and responsive answers," said Judge Mary Schroeder in the 3-0 ruling.
Bonds' lawyers were not immediately available for comment. They could ask the full appeals court for a rehearing. His sentence of 30 days of house arrest, 250 hours of community service and $4,100 in fines and court costs has been on hold during his appeal.
Bonds issued a statement on his website Friday that read, in part: "I have instructed my attorneys to ask the court and probation officials to permit me to begin serving my full sentence and probation immediately. Meanwhile, I also intend to seek further judicial review of the important legal issues presented by the appeal that was decided today."
Here's the intro to the opinion:
Barry Bonds was a celebrity child who grew up in
baseball locker rooms as he watched his father Bobby Bonds
and his godfather, the legendary Willie Mays, compete in the
Major Leagues. Barry Bonds was a phenomenal baseball
player in his own right. Early in his career he won MVP
awards and played in multiple All-Star games. Toward the
end of his career, playing for the San Francisco Giants, his
appearance showed strong indications of the use of steroids,
some of which could have been administered by his trainer,
Greg Anderson. Bonds’s weight and hat size increased, along
with the batting power that transformed him into one of the
most feared hitters ever to play the game. From the late-
1990s through the early-2000s, steroid use in baseball fueled
an unprecedented explosion in offense, leading some
commentators to refer to the period as the “Steroid Era.”1 In
2002, the federal government, through the Criminal
Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service, began
investigating the distribution of steroids and other
performance enhancing drugs (“PEDs”). The government’s
purported objective was to investigate whether the
distributors of PEDs laundered the proceeds gained by selling
The government’s investigation focused on the
distribution of steroids by the Bay Area Laboratory
Co-operative (“BALCO”), which was located in the San
Francisco Bay Area. The government raided BALCO and
obtained evidence suggesting that Anderson distributed
BALCO manufactured steroids to Bonds and other
professional athletes. The government convened a grand jury
in the fall of 2003 to further investigate the sale of these
drugs in order to determine whether the proceeds of the sales
were being laundered. Bonds and other professional athletes
were called to testify. Bonds testified under a grant of
immunity and denied knowingly using steroids or any other
PEDs provided by BALCO or Anderson. The government
later charged Bonds with obstructing the grand jury’s
investigation. After a jury trial, Bonds was convicted of one
count of obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§ 1503. He now appeals. We affirm the conviction.
In other news, the U.S. Attorney's office in the Eastern District of North Carolina is not going to put up with prosecutorial misconduct. The whole article is worth a read, but here's the intro from the Charlotte Observer:
In May, U.S. Court of Appeals judges were so upset with federal prosecutors from North Carolina’s Eastern District for persistently hiding or mishandling criminal case evidence that a tongue-lashing, perhaps never heard before in the stately wood-paneled U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals courtroom in Richmond, Va., was delivered from the bench.
“I’ve been an appellate judge for 28 years, and I have never made these kinds of comments to a prosecutor, never,” Appeals Court Judge Barbara Keenan told the prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in North Carolina’s 44-county region that stretches from Raleigh to the coast. “But the increasing frequency from your office of this kind of conduct is really troubling, really troubling.”
The circuit judges followed with a ruling two weeks ago in the securities fraud case of United States v. Gregory Bartko, suggesting that a prosecutor had ignored false testimony instead of correcting it during trial, among other concerns. The judges said the case further highlighted a troubling pattern of Eastern District prosecutors withholding evidence from defendants. They asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to review the behavior.
That has led to a shakeup at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the North Carolina Eastern District. Thomas Walker, the appointed U.S. Attorney since 2011, confirmed changes to the top ranks of his staff and said in an interview that he has adopted new rules for handling evidence in criminal cases.