Barry Bonds Convicted Of One Count Of Obstruction Of Justice

Exploring the sheer absurdity of the Bonds verdict

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Having slept on it, here’s one more thought about the Bonds verdict that simply blows my mind.

Yesterday when I reacted to the verdict, I noted the absurdity of Bonds being convicted on his rambling answer in “Statement C” as listed in Count 5 of the indictment. That “Statement C” was Bonds saying, in response to a question about receiving injections, that Greg Anderson was a friend of his and that Bonds was a child of a celebrity. It was four brief beside-the-point statements. And, importantly, Bonds did eventually say unequivocally that, no, he didn’t receive injections. Take that for what it’s worth, but it was a clear answer to a clear question.

I thought it was crazy that such a statement — which had nothing to do with Bonds’ steroids use and in no way actually prevented the prosecution from getting an answer to its question — could form the basis of an obstruction of justice charge. I had missed it the first time around, but apparently Bonds’ lawyers identified the absurdity of this during jury instructions too.  From the San Jose Mercury News’ play-by-play (go to the 9:31 AM update):

9:31 a.m.: Bonds lawyer strenuously objects to one jury instruction

Before the judge began instructing the jury, Dennis Riordan, one of Bonds’ lawyers, objected strenuously to the instruction on the obstruction of justice count against Bonds, which enables the jury to find him guilty based on four separate statements. Some of those statements appear loosely tethered to the allegations that Bonds lied to a federal grand jury in December 2003 about using steroids.

For example, one of the statements covers the following response to a question about whether Bonds had ever been given anything from trainer Greg Anderson that required a syringe.

“That’s what keeps our friendship,” Bonds replied in rambling fashion. “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….”

Riordan argued that the jury could clear Bonds of allegations connected to steroids and injections and, under the instruction, convict him of a felony through that statement, at least in theory. Quoting Karl Marx and his famous statement that history repeats itself twice, first as tragedy and then as farce, Riordan said such a conviction would be “utterly a farce.”

The judge didn’t agree, of course. Nor did she agree with this over the past few years when she had the opportunity to strike that part of the charge and did not, despite striking many others from the indictment.  You’d have to ask her why she allowed this to remain, but it makes no sense that such a statement, on its own, could constitute obstruction of justice.

There is not a single case in the history of Anglo-American jurisprudence in which a witness, at some point, didn’t go off on a tangent that was at least momentarily non-responsive to a question.  As a lawyer, you’re trained to reel the witness back in and focus him or her on the question. In court, if it gets bad, you get the judge to order the witness to answer the question that was asked. In a deposition you rephrase or say “that’s nice, but that’s not what I asked, what I asked was …”  Indeed, getting a witness to answer the question asked when he doesn’t want to or simply is unable to is a basic skill every trial lawyer learns.

But apparently not in the Northern District of California. There, when a witness goes off on a tangent, the precedent is now set: you bring felony charges against him. And it doesn’t matter if he later did answer the question, like Bonds did, or if he cannot be found to have lied or have obstructed justice in any way apart from his brief tangent.

Man, I wish I knew back when I was practicing law that I could have difficult witnesses charged with felony obstruction. It would have made my life so much easier if I didn’t have to prepare good questions and work to elicit the information I sought through the application of trial advocacy skills.  Oh well. You live and learn.

(thanks to Moshe for the Merc’s play-by-play re: the jury instruction)

Jon Niese leaves start with knee pain

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 17:  Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 17, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Mets starter Jon Niese left his start Tuesday night against the Cardinals due to left knee pain.

Niese walked two and gave up an RBI single before leaving with a trainer with one out in the bottom of the first inning. He was eventually charged with three earned runs. Robert Gsellman, just up from Las Vegas, took over, making his major league debut under unexpected circumstances.

Niese, who has not pitched well at all since coming over in a trade with the Pirates, is likely to be placed on the disabled list after the game or before tomorrow’s game.

Mark Trumbo’s home run streak ends

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 11:  Mark Trumbo #45 of the Baltimore Orioles hits an RBI single against the Oakland Athletics during the fourth inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 11, 2016 in Oakland, California. The Baltimore Orioles defeated the Oakland Athletics 9-6. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Mark Trumbo still has many chances to hit a home run tonight — it’s only been an inning or so in the Nats-Orioles game — but his weird home run streak is over.

Coming into tonight’s game, Trumbo’s last seven hits had been homers. The all-time record had been 11, set by Mark McGwire back in 2001. The last time Trumbo got a hit that wasn’t a dong was back on August 11. Later in that game, however, he hit a grand slam. After that he went 6 for his next 34, with all those safeties dingers.

But that’s over now. In the first inning tonight he drove in a run with a two-out single. Then he was thrown out trying to stretch it to two. Good job on the RBIs, Mark. Bad job on the base running. Judgment withheld on the homer streak because, really, that’s just kind of weird and cool.