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December 16, 2011

Barry Bonds sentenced to two years of probation and is grounded for a month

Somewhat fittingly, Barry Bonds today got a kind of sentence that is more like what teenagers face when they misbehave than what most federal felons receive.  This local story, which is headlined "Barry Bonds sentenced to two years probation, 30 days home confinement," provides the specifics:

Home run king Barry Bonds was sentenced Friday to two years probation and 30 days home confinement for obstructing justice during his December 2003 testimony before a federal grand jury probing the Balco steroids scandal.  But U.S. District Judge Susan Illston immediately stayed her sentence while Bonds appeals his conviction. Prosecutors objected to the stay.

During a hearing that lasted less than an hour in San Francisco, Illston imposed the sentence on the 47-year-old Bonds, who was convicted in April by a jury that was torn over allegations he repeatedly lied about his own steroid use under oath, deadlocking on three other perjury counts against him. The sentenced also includes 250 hours of community service.

Bonds did not take the opportunity to address the judge before the sentencing. Afterward, he hugged supporters outside the courtroom and then left amid a crush of reporters without saying a word publicly.  The jury concluded Bonds obstructed justice by providing a rambling, evasive answer to a question about whether he'd ever been supplied with steroids or injected by his former personal trainer, Greg Anderson.

Federal prosecutors sought to imprison Bonds for at least 15 months, which would be one of the harshest punishments meted out against a defendant convicted in the Balco case. Defense lawyers pushed for probation, arguing that Bonds had a clean criminal record and a quiet pattern of doing charitable work in the community during his long career in Major League Baseball.

Federal probation officials recommended that Bonds be put on probation, although with some period of "location monitoring," which in other Balco cases resulted in home detention. Tammy Thomas, a former world class cyclist convicted of perjury, received probation and a home confinement sentence, as did former track coach Trevor Graham, convicted of lying to federal agents.

But Bonds was always the most high-profile name linked to Balco, a now-defunct Peninsula laboratory that sprouted the largest doping scandal in sports history.  The former San Francisco Giant was hauled in front of the grand jury probing the lab in 2003 as he chased baseball's all-time home run records, asked to explain records that appeared to link him to steroid use, Balco, Anderson and Balco founder Victor Conte. Bonds repeatedly denied knowingly using performance enhancing drugs, prompting years of further investigation that led to his indictment on perjury and obstruction charges nearly five years ago.

To critics, including Conte, the government's case was a waste of taxpayer money to go after a superstar whose legacy was already tarnished by strong evidence he used performance enhancing drugs in the latter stages of a surefire Hall of Fame career.  But to the government, it was a case designed to show that no one can undermine the grand jury process by lying under oath, regardless of their fame.

I am very glad that no federal tax dollars are going to be wasted on keeping Bonds imprisoned for an offense that was, in my opinion, perhaps the most mitigated federal felony that I can even imagine.  That said, I think this case provides yet another example of the failure of American justice system to hit white-collar offenders in the pocketbook at sentencing. 

Suppose, instead of grounding Barry Bonds for a month through home confinement, what if his sentence were set to be an  amount equivalent to one-month of his salary in 2003 when he committed his offense of conviction.  In that year, he earned over $15 million, so his "month fine" would be in the neighborhood of a cool $1.25 million.  That probably would not even cover the costs of his prosecution, but it would send an interestingly distinct signal to other well-to-do white-collar offenders, perhaps.

December 16, 2011 at 03:59 PM | Permalink


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Professor Berman,

You suggest hitting someone like Bonds in the pocketbook. I was just wondering how much you would fine someone like Bonds for something like this. It seems to me that with the millions that he has made from his playing days, a fine would have the same affect as 30 days confinement in his mansion.

Posted by: Sean B. | Dec 16, 2011 4:07:23 PM

So, if Newt disagrees with this probationary sentence, the dist. judge who imposed it should be impeached or subpoenaed to justify her decision before Congress? Isn't that the upshot of the crazed proposal concerning the judiciary that Newt bellowed out in last night's debate?

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | Dec 16, 2011 4:08:57 PM

I must not have seen your suggestion on the bottom of your post, I appologize. I don't think that it would really send a distinct signal to other well-to-do white collar criminals, because the chances are that these criminals have enough money to cover whatever the fine will be and still go out and buy a nice new Mercedes to drive around.

I do think that hitting these people with large fines would be a good idea though. It will at least reimburse the system a little bit for the amount of money that it costs to prosecute these things. Like I said in my first post, the amount of resources that I believe are being wasted on prosectuions like this disgusts me. If we impose these fines, the government at least gets a little bit of that back.

Posted by: Sean B. | Dec 16, 2011 9:43:00 PM

The AUSA should have had the courage to say to the court: "Your Honor, if that is going to be your sentence, don't bother. Just release him without further penalty, because he has received none."

Their public statement should be, "What we have learned today is that lying to the grand jury carries no real penalty. Fortunately the system will not totally break down if for no other reason than most people have more character than Barry Bonds."

Posted by: David | Dec 17, 2011 10:52:57 AM

well no offense david but there should be NO punishment for lying to LIERS! and face it OUR congress takes lying to NEW HIGHTS every time they open their mouths!

after all isn't that the same rule used by the courts and law enforcment when dealing with crime....it's perfectly legal to lie, cheat, steal, fake evidence and testimony as long as it get's a criminal!

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 17, 2011 12:37:52 PM

If they want to deter this kind of behavior they should execute him.

Posted by: Barry Bondsman | Dec 17, 2011 1:06:41 PM

Barry Bondsman --

So executions have a deterrent effect after all! Glad to hear the admission after all the times this fact has been denied.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2011 3:39:18 PM

David --

Bingo. The judge might just as well have said, "Lie to the grand jury all you want, that's OK around here."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2011 3:41:25 PM


The judge did say that, especially with the stay pending appeal.

Posted by: David | Dec 17, 2011 7:28:35 PM

Its scary how quick someones life can change.

Was it really worth the lie?

Too bad. Wish him al the best

Posted by: breathalyzer vending machine | Dec 17, 2011 8:06:04 PM

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