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Media Alerts - U.S. v. Bonds - Ninth Circuit
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November 4, 2013
  U.S. v. Bonds - Ninth Circuit
Headline: Ninth Circuit affirms Barry Bonds' conviction of one count of obstruction of justice based on evasive and misleading statements made to a grand jury.

Area of Law: Criminal Procedure and Vagueness Doctrine

Issue Presented: The scope of 18 U.S.C. § 1503 and whether the word "corruptly" in the statute is unconstitutionally vague.

Brief Summary: Appellant, Barry Bonds, responded to a question regarding his knowledge of his trainer's steroid connections with comments about Bonds' own celebrity childhood. Based on this, Bonds was charged and ultimately convicted of one count of obstruction of justice.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed Bonds' conviction holding that, while Bonds' statement may have been factually true, his statement was both evasive and misleading to the jury. Furthermore, the Court agreed with precedent that § 1503 both applied to statements made to a grand jury and that the statute was not unconstitutionally vague since it gave Bonds' sufficient notice that his conduct was criminal.

Extended Summary: Barry Bonds was called to testify before a grand jury regarding whether his trainer, Greg Anderson, had any connection with the distribution of steroids to Bonds and other professional athletes. Bonds was given immunity to testify, but the immunity grant did not include perjury or false declarations. When asked whether Greg ever gave Bonds anything requiring a syringe to inject, Bonds responded that he did not inquire into other people's business because of his own experiences as a celebrity child. Based in this response, Bonds was indicted and convicted for obstruction of justice.

Bonds appealed his conviction based on five challenges: 1) § 1503 does not apply to misleading statements that are factually true; 2) § 1503 does not apply to witness testimony to a grand jury; 3) the statute's use of the word "corruptly" is unconstitutionally vague; 4) the indictment did not provide Bonds with sufficient notice of the charge, and 5) the trial court erred in denying Bonds' request to modify the jury instructions.

Regarding misleading statements that are factually true, the Ninth Circuit reasoned that whether a statement is evasive or false is immaterial since both can effectively block the flow of information to a fact finder. The statute focuses on a defendant's intent to obstruct justice and as such applies to factually true statements that are evasive or misleading. Since Bonds' response had nothing to do with the question asked, his response's only purpose was to divert the jury from the issue. Furthermore, the Ninth Circuit found Bonds' response to be misleading since it implied a lack of knowledge which directly conflicted with later testimony that Bonds knew his trainer distributed steroids.

The Ninth Circuit then found that Bonds' second and third arguments were based on outdated or incorrect interpretations of caselaw. While Bonds argued that the statute did not apply to statements to a grand jury, the current controlling caselaw is § 1503 applies to false statements made under oath to a judge. The Supreme Court has since confirmed that this includes testimony or documents given directly to a grand jury. Similarly, Bonds argument that the word "corruptly" is unconstitutionally vague was based on a case interpreting the same word in a completely different statute (United States v. Poindexter, 951 F.2d 369 (D.C. Cir. 1991). However, the Poindexter court expressly cautioned other courts against finding that the term as used in § 1503 was unconstitutionally vague. Furthermore, courts that have discussed vagueness challenges to § 1503's use of the term "corruptly" have rejected such arguments.

The Ninth Circuit also held that the indictment provided Bonds with sufficient notice of the charge against him. Bonds argued that the indictment was deficient since it did not expressly state which of his responses violated the statute. However, the Ninth Circuit held that the indictment did not have to include specific statements; instead it was sufficient to inform Bonds that any material false, misleading, or evasive statement would support a conviction. Bonds also argued that when subsequent jury instructions referenced specific statements, they in effect expanded the indictment. The Ninth Circuit, though, held that the instructions actually narrowed the indictment since they limited the scope from "any false, misleading, or evasive statement" to "specific ones."

Lastly, Bonds argued that he should have been allowed to modify the jury instructions to add "when considered in its totality." Since the jury was already told to "consider[] all the evidence" in its deliberations, however, the Ninth Circuit reasoned that Bonds' proposed addition added little or nothing to the court's instruction. Furthermore, Bonds' proposed change would have also invited an incorrect inference that Bonds' entire testimony would have had to be misleading, whereas in actuality the law allows for convictions based on individual statements.

For these reasons, the Ninth Circuit affirmed Bonds' conviction for one count of obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1503.

Panel: Judges Schroeder, Hawkins, Murguia

Date of Issued Opinion: September 13, 2013

Docket Number: 3:07-cr-00732-SI-1

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Seth DuMouchel

Author of Opinion: Judge Schroeder

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Glenn S. Koppel

Edited: 11/05/2013 at 09:57 AM by Media Alerts Moderator

    Posted By: Glenn Koppel @ 11/04/2013 05:16 PM     9th Circuit  

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