Barry Bonds’ lawyers argue his obstruction of justice conviction today

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Barry Bonds lawyers will head into court today to argue his appeal of his obstruction of justice conviction today. There will be no decision today because that’s not how appellate courts roll, but when you read the Bonds headlines later, that’s what it’s about.

To review: Bonds was acquitted on all counts of perjury, but convicted for obstruction of justice. The basis for that conviction: a rambling answer to a question about whether anyone besides team doctors ever injected him with anything. His initial answer was something incoherent about being a “celebrity child.” Prosecutors and the jury say that that answer was “intentionally false, misleading and evasive.”

What no one ever seems to mention, though, is that Bonds actually answered the question:

source:

 

As I’ve said before: maybe that “no” is lie. Probably is in fact. But the jury didn’t agree, acquitting him on that very question with respect to the perjury count. No, the prosecution claimed, and the jury agreed, that the question was not answered. That Bonds “misled and evaded” the grand jury.

The prosecution can say that all it wants — and maybe the appeals court will uphold the conviction because courts hate overturning jury verdicts as a general rule — but the fact is, Bonds was asked a yes or no question and he answered “no.”  He rambled for a minute, just as every single witness in every single deposition or grand jury hearing in the history of Anglo-American jurisprudence has done.  But he answered the question.  Even the jurors, interviewed after the trial, agreed that he did and questioned their conviction of him. “Wolfram” was one of the jurors:

Wolfram, 25, who works with developmentally disabled adults in Concord, Calif., said four of the jurors were unsure of the wording of that charge in the first place. She said she and those other jurors noticed that Bonds in his grand jury testimony eventually answered whether Anderson had ever injected him. But he did so a few pages later in his testimony, Wolfram said, not in the section mentioned in the charge. She said she and the other three jurors thought Bonds should not be convicted if he ultimately answered the question.

Wolfram said later, however, that they felt they had no choice because the jury instructions — authored by the prosecution — forbade them from looking at his “no, no” answer a page or two after the question was initially asked. To repeat: The prosecution, via the judge’s approval of their jury instruction, specifically told the jury TO NOT LOOK AT THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION. That is the legal basis of the appeal, by the way: bad jury instruction that all but required a guilty verdict, regardless of the actual facts.

Whatever the case, how all this constitutes obstruction of justice is utterly baffling to me still, a decade after he answered the question. Courts and common sense agree: It is not the job of the criminal justice system to punish an evasive or non-responsive witness. It is the job of the person asking the question to pin an evasive witness down. Here the lawyer in question didn’t do that, but either way, the question was ultimately answered.

Anyway, it’s now up to the Court of Appeals to explain how that constituted obstruction. I’m quite eager to hear how it does. And if it does, I’m quite eager to see if prosecutors start adding obstruction of justice counts to every single case on every single docket in the American judicial system. Because on this rationale, they most certainly could.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.