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March 21, 2011

Will the spectacle of the Barry Bonds trial be good or bad for perceptions of federal criminal justice?

As noted in this San Francisco Chronicle article, which is headlined "Barry Bonds trial: Expect a 'heavyweight' fight," a federal district court in California is getting a running start on baseball season with the start today of Barry Bonds' federal criminal trial for perjury. Here is some of the backstory with a bit of sentencing perspective on the forthcoming spectacle:

Bonds was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, accused of lying under oath when he told a grand jury in 2003 that he had never knowingly used steroids.

Now, in a trial that is scheduled to get under way Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, a jury will be asked to decide whether baseball's home run king set his historic mark while using a long list of banned drugs.  He has pleaded not guilty.

For Bonds, 46, who has not played baseball since he was indicted, the stakes are high —even though most experts doubt he will face prison if convicted.  In 2008, Bonds' trial judge, Susan Illston, sentenced two defendants who were convicted of lying to authorities about steroids in sports to home confinement, not prison.  That sets a baseline for sentencing Bonds if he is convicted, experts say.

The trial represents a chance for Bonds to repair a reputation badly tarnished by his association with the BALCO steroid scandal, and, perhaps, to secure a place in baseball history that might otherwise be denied him.  If Bonds is acquitted, his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame "go way up," said former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent. "But if he gets convicted, it's the end of the discussion for at least 30 years."

Meanwhile, the trial is likely to further roil a sport that has been unable to get past what has been called its "steroid era" — 15 years when baseball was rife with performance-enhancing drugs. Even after Bonds' trial is over, more turbulence is likely: In July, former All-Star pitcher Roger Clemens is scheduled to go on trial in Washington, charged with lying under oath when he told a congressional committee that he had never used steroids.

Whatever the outcome, the Bonds trial will probably be "a hard-fought battle, like a heavyweight championship fight," said defense lawyer William Keane, who defended Olympic track coach Trevor Graham in 2008 in a case similar to Bonds'.

As is my tendency, I likely will pay relatively little attention to the Bonds case unless and until he is convicted and faces sentencing. Nevertheless, on the eve of his trial, I wonder if readers have thoughts about the question that titles this post: do we think the Bonds trial will be good or bad for how the public perceives the federal criminal justice system? And does the answer to this question inevitably depend on the outcome?

March 21, 2011 at 07:29 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I think if any player found take using banned drugs then court should be banned for whole life.

Posted by: Restaurants Delhi | Mar 21, 2011 8:32:37 AM

I'm not sure it will matter for either BB or for the federal criminal justice system. For BB, even if he is found not guilty, I imagine it will be seen as OJ Simpson-lite. Sure, the United States may not have proven his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt--but look at BB's muscle development over five years and tell me he wasn't juicing.

As for the criminal justice system, hopefully it won't become a circus like OJ's trial did--which I imagine will be the case since federal judges tend to be a lot more protective of a court "image." In that sense, people may see the system as more dignified a venue...but I also don't think anyone will learn a whole lot more about the system.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Mar 21, 2011 9:02:46 AM

Bad

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Mar 21, 2011 9:09:23 AM

"-but look at BB's muscle development over five years and tell me he wasn't juicing."

I don't think that issue is in doubt to most folks. However, the charge is not using; rather he is on trial for perjury, obstruction of justice and of lying under oath.

"Susan Illston, sentenced two defendants who were convicted of lying to authorities about steroids in sports to home confinement, not prison."

Wonder how this compares with sentences handed to any other non-celebrity defendant convicted of lying to the feds?

Posted by: Just Curious | Mar 21, 2011 9:55:07 AM

he deserves to be prosecuted for lying, and the lawyer who let him testify in front of the grand jury to such BS deserves to be fired.

Posted by: federal defender | Mar 21, 2011 4:06:51 PM

federal defender --

Why should Bonds's lawyer have been required to assume that the client would commit perjury? I'm often told that defense lawyers should not judge their clients. If that's so, then still less, I would think, should they PRE-judge them.

Telling the truth in serious matters may be considered a hall-of-mirrors exercise in defense lawyering, but to normal people, it's just a matter of course.

As a side benefit, telling the truth makes your life a lot less complicated, and it builds trust. It's also a good example for your kids. It should not be discouraged; to the contrary, it should be applauded.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 21, 2011 8:18:53 PM

i have to agree with bill here! Of course i'd have went with another good option. Keep your mouth shut! If you have to lie....SHUT UP! and say NOTHING!

especialy in a case like this when what he was basiclly doing was being forced to answer questions about what SOMEONE else had said he had done. Shut up and say sorry NO COMMIT! at that point the little nazi's are dead in the water!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 22, 2011 12:47:53 AM

"Telling the truth in serious matters may be considered a hall-of-mirrors exercise in defense lawyering, but to normal people, it's just a matter of course. "

Pretty smug, coming as it does from a former federal prosecutor.

From what I've seen, prosecutors somewhat routinely stretch and exaggerate accusations against citizens, larding charging documents with incendiary language and dramatic flourishes capable of making even mundane actions seem sinister and vicious.

They routinely exhibit the power and inclination to compel helpful testimony from highly motivated (and often sleazy) witnesses, folks who typically stand to pay with years of their lives behind bars if their testimony fails to shore up the prosecution's case. Anytime truth emerges in such circumstances it’s probably as much by accident as design.

Never mind all the shifty tactics prosecutors routinely employ to disadvantage citizens accused of crimes. http://www.justiceontrial.org/articles/speedy.htm

So it's easy to see the sanctity of truth in federal courts thing as a one-way street, with guys like Bonds getting stomped while self-serving snitches and federal agents and prosecutors deceive and prevaricate with impunity.

FWIW, each of three agents who testified in the most recent trial I covered from beginning to end was caught giving false testimony -- two fibs and one whopper with nary a word about it in the MSM, let alone subsequent perjury charges.

Nonetheless, it’s always uplifting and inspiring when Bill expounds on teaching the kids about the virtues of honesty.

Posted by: John K | Mar 22, 2011 12:40:43 PM

John K --

"Nonetheless, it’s always uplifting and inspiring when Bill expounds on teaching the kids about the virtues of honesty."

Someone's gotta do it. You sure won't.

Would you prefer that I expound on the virtues of DISHONESTY?

Still, you can give me and the rest of the board a lesson on forthcomingness by giving the name of the case you refer to and the specifics, so people can check for themselves and not be required to take your biased word for it. Could you please supply those?

Lastly, it's always amusing to see a self-righteous lecture on honesty being delivered by someone who won't give his real name to someone who does so routinely.

P.S. For pure smugness, it's impossible to surpass peter.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 22, 2011 5:31:25 PM

I would say BB is toast, once the Feds indict you they have a good case and way too much power in those loosely written statues.....He may do some time and I agree he will come out with an OJ stigma, either way it goes..

Posted by: Abe | Mar 23, 2011 1:47:57 PM

how true Abe once the febs target you THEY ARE GONNA GET YOU. No matter what they have to do or who they have to do it too!

kind of like a truck driver pulled over by DOT on the side of the road. once that officer has pulled you over. only way you leaving is in handcuffs or after getting a ticket....

I've seen drivers use an elbow to smash a tail light after an hour or two of a so-called inspection when they finaly relaize that truth! and just smash a light to get a damn ticket and get back to work!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 23, 2011 5:30:11 PM

Thanks for your share,thanks a lot.Good luck!

Posted by: Big pony | Apr 11, 2011 7:59:23 AM

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