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Bonds' Obstruction Conviction Upheld for Rambling Truthful Answer

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By William Peacock, Esq. on September 13, 2013 4:08 PM

When does a truthful statement amount to obstruction of justice? How about this colloquy, between a prosecutor and baseball not-Hall of Famer Barry Bonds:

Prosecutor: Did Greg [Anderson] ever give you anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?

Bonds: I've only had one doctor touch me. And that's my only personal doctor. Greg, like I said, we don't get into each others' personal lives. We're friends, but I don't -- we don't sit around and talk baseball, because he knows I don't want -- don't come to my house talking baseball. If you want to come to my house and talk about fishing, some other stuff, we'll be good friends, you come around talking about baseball, you go on. I don't talk about his business. You know what I mean?

Prosecutor: Right.

Bonds: 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.

Yep. Bonds was a celebrity child, but the response has nothing to do with the question. At all.

The prosecutor later returned to the question, and after a bit more pressing Bonds finally denied that he had ever received an injectable steroid from Anderson.

The Conviction

Though the grand jury testimony was in relation to alleged steroid distributor BALCO (Bay Area Lab Co-operative), and its proprietors, the rambling, evasive response led to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Though the jury deadlocked on the perjury charges, they did convict Bonds of obstruction, leading to a felony conviction, thirty days of home confinement, and two years of probation.

The Appeal

On appeal, Bonds argued that because the statement was truthful, it could not serve as the basis for an obstruction charge. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, noting that the "omnibus" clause of the obstruction statute was "designed to proscribe all manner of corrupt methods of obstructing justice," and held that "[t]he language of the statute does not differentiate between obstructive statements that are false, and obstructive statements that are not false. It requires only that the defendant make his statement with the intent to obstruct justice.

Bonds also argued that even if the statute applied, his statement was neither evasive, misleading, nor material. According to the court, the non-responsive, irrelevant answer "served to divert the grand jury's attention away from the relevant inquiry of the investigation, which was Anderson and BALCO's distribution of steroids and PEDs. The statement was therefore evasive." The statement was also misleading, as it implied no knowledge of steroid distribution, yet other testimony at Bonds trial conflicted with the implication.

Bonds' other arguments, including asserting that grand jury testimony was not covered by the obstruction statute (foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent), were dismissed by the panel, which upheld his conviction. Bonds still has the options of asking for a full en banc rehearing or appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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