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Barry Bonds' Obstruction of Justice Conviction Overturned

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Like many criminal defendants before him, Barry Bonds gave a "rambling, non-responsive answer to a single question." That non-answer earned the ex-ballplayer an obstruction of justice conviction.

And, like many convicted criminals before him, Bonds appealed his conviction. That appeal was finally successful today, after the 9th Circuit United States Court of Appeals reversed his conviction.

The Long and Winding Answer

The trouble for Bonds (in this particular case) started when, in front of a grand jury, he was asked if his trainer ever gave him anything he would need to inject himself with. After pontificating on the nature of his relationship with his trainer, Bonds said the following:

"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."

When prosecutors followed up on the matter, Bonds gave more direct denials of steroid use. The government, believing that this and other statements were false, charged Bonds with perjury obstruction of justice.

Perjury and/or Obstruction?

Perjury is lying or making a false statement during a judicial proceeding. On the other hand, obstruction of justice, on the other hand, is more broadly defined as impeding or interfering with a criminal investigation or prosecution. While jurors in Bonds's case did not believe he lied, thus acquitting him of perjury, they did find that his above statement (and only this one) was obstructive.

The appellate court, however, disagreed, saying that the statement "did not have the capacity to divert the government from its investigation or influence the grand jury's decision whether to indict anyone." The court went on to say that whether the statement was true or false was irrelevant because Bonds said nothing germane to the investigation. In effect, Bonds's statement was so far afield, it couldn't have interfered with the prosecution of the case.

Any criminal defendant after Bonds might want to take note: rambling, non-responsive answers, and even lies, are OK, so long as they have nothing to do with the investigation.

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