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Court strikes down Barry Bonds' obstruction of justice appeal

Back in 2003, baseball great Barry Bonds was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for his agreement to testify before a grand jury. The case came after a raid of a steroid manufacturer called the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, by federal agents. Bonds was to testify about his knowledge of BALCO and a professional trainer the government said had provided steroids to Bonds and a number of other professional athletes.

Unfortunately, Bonds’ testimony wasn’t very productive. He initially denied any knowledge of the scheme. When pressed on whether the trainer had ever provided him with self-injectable substances, however, he responded by describing his own life as the child of a celebrity. Barry Bonds is the son of former major-league All-Star Bobby Bonds.

In 2007, Bonds found himself facing criminal charges regarding that testimony, including four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice. After a high-profile trial, a jury decided that Bonds’ grand jury answer was misleading. It found him guilty of obstruction of justice but was unable to reach agreement on the other criminal charges. He was not imprisoned.

Bonds recently asked the 9th Circuit Court of appeals to reverse his obstruction of justice conviction and got harshly smacked down. After a hearing in February, the court refused to hear anything further on the case. Many consider Bonds the best player in baseball history. The court noted, however, that he became larger, stronger and better in the second half of his career, and that there was plenty of other evidence pointing to his likely use of steroids.

As for his self-description as a celebrity child in response to prosecutors’ questions, the appellate court was curt. Bonds had argued that the statement could not be considered obstructive since it’s factually true.

The problem is that while Bonds was a celebrity child, that fact was unrelated to the question,” the court wrote. “When factually true statements are misleading or evasive, they can prevent the grand jury from obtaining truthful and responsive answers” and be legally considered obstructive.

"The statement served to divert the grand jury's attention away from the relevant inquiry of the investigation,” it continued, and was “at the very least misleading…because it implied that Bonds did not know whether [the trainer] distributed steroids” and performance-enhancing drugs.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Obstruction Conviction Against Barry Bonds Upheld by 9th Circuit,” Barbara Leonard, Sept. 13, 2013

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