A lot of people have been asking in the comments recently about whether the somewhat inexplicable jury verdict against Barry Bonds will be overturned, vacated, appealed, whatever. I’m not a criminal procedure expert so the specific mechanics relating to a trial judge’s ability to set aside a jury verdict are a little amorphous to me, and NBC doesn’t pay me enough to go hit the law library to figure it out. Not that I’d really want to anyway.
My sense, though, is that it’s a really tall order to have a verdict set aside — it’s certainly the case in civil trials, and I would guess that it’s harder in the criminal sphere — but that Bonds’ appeallate avenues are wide open and pretty, um, appealing given the bad jury instructions that were given on obstruction of justice and the unusual and, in my view, incoherent he-didn’t-perjure-himself-but-he-did-obstruct-justice outcome of the trial.
Today the New York Times tracks down people who know more about this stuff than I do and tries to hash it all out. Worth noting — though they’re obviously biased — is that Bonds’ own attorneys considered the verdict the other day to be pretty good news all things considered. They they think that Judge Illston will vacate the conviction on May 20th and that Bonds will go free (you know what I mean). Other legal experts believe that such optimism is “reasonable” but that appeal may be a more sure route to success:
Bradley Simon, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in white-collar criminal defense, said the defense might say that Bonds’s evasive statements to the grand jury did not rise to the level of obstruction of justice. He said that it was one of the arguments that make a strong case and that the issue might set off an appeal that would last for years.
“I think there’s a reasonable chance the judge will agree with the defense, but even if she doesn’t dismiss it, they have a really good appellate question,” Simon said. “No matter how you look at it, this is a great result for the defense because they have an issue that calls the conviction into question.”
I don’t think he means “great result” in terms of the conviction being great. I think he means things are set up well for appeal purposes, even if an acquittal would be preferable. But hey, what do I know?
But even if I don’t know anything, my gut tells me that contrary to what one of the other experts says in the article, this case doesn’t seem likely to settle with a plea. I am highly skeptical that the prosecution will go through a retrial of the other counts, and barring that as a legitimate threat, they have nothing to offer Bonds (i.e. they’re not going to come off of him admitting to one count). Bonds, in contrast, has to believe that he’s got a great shot on appeal. As such, my guess is that this either ends with the judge setting this aside in May or after a lengthy appeal.