Twelve years after his testimony in the BALCO case, eight years after he was indicted by a grand jury for perjury and obstruction of justice for that testimony, and four years after he was convicted of a single obstruction of justice charge, the federal government’s case against Barry Bonds has been revealed to be the farce we knew it was all along.
Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voted 10-1 to reverse Bonds’s obstruction of justice conviction. Prosecutors could still ask the full court to rehear the case or appeal to the Supreme Court, but you don’t need to be a legal expert to know which way the wind blows.
The case against Bonds was flimsy, stupid, and a massive waste of millions of taxpayer dollars from the beginning. The federal government tried to charge Bonds with as many as 15 counts, had that reduced to four, and won conviction on a single obstruction of justice charge*. He was convicted, essentially, of giving a rambling answer to that grand jury back in December 2003. Here’s what our Tommy Craggs wrote at the time:
Seven years of this shit, and that’s what they got him on — evading a question he ultimately answered. Aggravated incoherence. A felony charge of Not Being Freaking Pericles in the Presence of a Grand Jury.
When asked whether childhood friend and personal trainer Greg Anderson had ever injected him with drugs, Bonds went on an extreme tangent that touched upon being a celebrity child before finally answering no, Anderson hadn’t. The jury didn’t convict Bonds of the perjury charges—i.e. they didn’t convict him of lying—but still held that his circuitous answer obstructed justice. Ten of the eleven appeals court judges ripped apart this logic, noting that answers in court usually aren’t neat and tidy. Via the AP:
“Real-life witness examinations, unlike those in movies and on television, invariably are littered with non-responsive and irrelevant answers,” Judge Alex Kozinski wrote.
Kozinski, writing for himself and four other judges, was concerned the obstruction statute, “stretched to its limits ... poses a significant hazard for everyone involved in our system of justice, because so much of what the adversary process calls for could be construed as obstruction.”
“One need not spend much time in one of our courtrooms to hear lawyers dancing around questions from the bench rather than giving pithy, direct answers,” he wrote.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote “this case involves nothing more than an irrelevant, rambling statement made by a witness during the course of a grand jury investigation.”
Wolfram said she remembers there being some confusion among the jurors over the fact that Bonds did answer the question later in the testimony.
Now, instead of having dumb and ultimately fruitless arguments about how this reversal impacts Bonds’s Hall of Fame prospects (Too late! It’s too late!), let’s remember what a truly incredible baseball player he was.