Barry Bonds turns 51 years old on Friday. The United States Department of Justice gave him an early birthday present when it announced that it would drop its criminal case against Bonds almost 10 years after it began. Bonds and his attorneys embarrassed federal prosecutors at every step along the way. Finally, the government has decided it has had enough egg on its face in its misguided morally-driven witch-hunt. The feds formally admitted defeat in a short court filing on July 21, 2015.
The government intended to make an example of a high-profile celebrity athlete suspected of using anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. Instead, the case against Barry Bonds represents an example for prosecutors of how not to try a case.
Barry Bonds was quite modest in his declaration of victory over the federal government.
“The finality of today’s decision gives me great peace,” Bonds wrote on his personal blog. “As I have said before, this outcome is something I have long wished for. I am relieved, humbled and thankful for what this means for me and my family moving forward.”
The court filing by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice quietly informed the court that the government would not challenge the reversal of Bonds’ obstruction of justice conviction to the United States Supreme Court. The filing represented the very last chapter in the government’s witch-hunt of Barry Bonds.
In 2011, a federal jury found the former San Francisco Giants star guilty of obstruction of justice for giving a meandering answer to a 2003 federal grand jury. An eleven judge en banc panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 10-1 to overturn that conviction in April 2015.
U.S. Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski chastised and rebuked the government for prosecutorial abuse of the obstruction laws. He warned that the misuse in the Bonds case could have a “chilling effect” and “poses a significant hazard for everyone involved in our system of justice”.
“Making everyone who participates in our justice system a potential criminal defendant for conduct that is nothing more than the ordinary tug and pull of litigation risks chilling zealous advocacy,” Kozinski said.
The only recourse for federal prosecutors was to formally ask the Supreme Court to review the case. After spending an estimated $100 million and almost 10 years prosecuting Bonds, it is somewhat surprising that the feds didn’t pursue the one last option available to them. Perhaps they could not withstand the further embarrassment to follow an almost certain rejection by the Supreme Court.
Almost 10 years ago, federal prosecutors embarked on a witch-hunt in which they attempted to prove Bonds lied about his use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. Prosecutors charged him with three counts of perjury for statements concerning his steroid use before a grand jury.
Bonds was cleared of lying about steroids after a hung jury resulted in a mistrial on all three charges. Prosecutors failed to prove that Bonds (1) knowingly received steroids from his personal trainer Greg Anderson; (2) received an injection from anyone other than his doctor; and (3) received human growth hormone from Anderson.
The only charge that prosecutors could get to stick (albeit only temporarily) was the obstruction of justice charge. Even though the jury voted to convict Bonds, the charge was always bogus according to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. How could Bonds have obstructed justice when he answered the question repeatedly in a meandering response?
“I don’t see how there is sufficient evidence where the question was re-asked immediately and answered repeatedly,” Circuit Judge Susan P. Graber said. “So it’s as if someone says, ‘Well I can’t remember what time it was. Oh, yeah, it was 7 o’clock.’ It just doesn’t make sense to me that a jury could find the elements as instructed given the specifics of this case.”
The outcome of the Bonds case should be a clear notice to overzealous prosecutors that the court system is not a venue for morally-driven anti-doping campaigns. And it should be a warning to prosecutors who work too closely with anti-doping officials to make examples out of celebrity athletes who are suspected of using steroids.
Justice has been served.
Elias, P. & Thanawala, S. (July 21, 2015) Feds end prosecution of Barry Bonds without conviction. Retrieved from http://bigstory.ap.org/article/9f28dad320df4443a6312b970f0eb0bc/feds-end-prosecution-barry-bonds-without-conviction