The 9th Circuit Might Be On The Slugger’s Side

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is rehearing an obstruction of justice conviction against retired baseball star, Barry Bonds. The conviction stems from Bonds’ 2003 grand jury testimony that was investigating steroid use among professional athletes. Under a grant of immunity, Bonds denied knowingly using steroids or any performance-enhancing drugs provided by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative or his trainer, Greg Anderson. When asked about steroid use, Bonds digressed from the question and instead talked about his childhood and his father. Bonds’ eventually answered the prosecutor’s follow-up  question about obtaining and using steroids.

In 2006, federal investigators looked into whether Bonds committed perjury and obstruction of justice relating to his evasive testimony. In 2011, a jury convicted Bonds of obstruction of justice but deadlocked on the perjury counts which the prosecutor then dropped.  He served two years probation and 30 days of home confinement.

The 9th Circuit affirmed the obstruction of justice conviction in 2013 against Bonds, but recently voted to rehear the case. At a hearing held in San Francisco on Thursday, September 18, the 11-member judicial panel aggressively questioned government prosecutors regarding whether Bonds’ testimony actually amounted to a crime. The 9th Circuit panel was skeptical as to whether Bonds’ evasive answers during the 2003 grand jury amounted to a felony obstruction of justice. Although Bond’s testimony may have digressed from the real issue of steroid use, the 9th Circuit seemed reluctant to accept that such testimony can be transformed into obstruction of justice.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Merry Jean Chan responded to the 9th Circuit that Bonds’ “corrupt intent” is the linchpin for an obstruction of justice charge. However, Judge William Fletcher answered that this “is common behavior in civil litigation,” and likely does not amount to obstruction of justice. Judge Fletcher said that Chan’s “reading of the (obstruction of justice) statue [is] absolutely alarming.”

The potential reversal is significant for the retired baseball star. Any chance he has of being admitted to the sport’s Hall of Fame may be contingent on his conviction reversal.

The 9th Circuit did not indicate when it would rule on the reversal.


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