Obstruction of Justice: What Can We Learn from Barry Bonds?
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put an end this year to the government's legal action against former baseball player Barry Bonds. The court issued an order overturning a jury verdict which convicted him of obstruction of justice. Although the Department of Justice could have appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court, it notified the court just before the filing deadline that an appeal would not be filed.
Bonds had been brought before a federal grand jury in the government's probe of the use of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. His testimony resulted in the U. S. Attorney seeking perjury charges against him. In the end, the trial jury came back with a conviction for obstruction of justice. Bonds appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
Bonds' case is like other criminal cases where a person being investigated for possible criminal acts actually commits a criminal act because of the investigation. Richard Nixon is a classic example in the Watergate burglary. Investigators looking for a connection between Nixon and the burglary never found one, but they did find that Nixon obstructed justice during the investigation. The rest is history, as the saying goes.
During Bonds' appearance before the grand jury, he gave a rambling, non-responsive answer to a question from the prosecutor about whether he had ever received injectable drugs from his trainer, who was the initial subject of the government's investigation. Later information obtained by prosecutors showed that he had used performance-enhancing drugs, which led to his indictment in light of his evasive answer to the grand jury.
The lesson to be learned from Barry Bonds is to provide straight and truthful answers to government prosecutors and investigators, especially when under oath. Perjury charges cannot be brought against you unless untruthful testimony is provided under oath, but obstruction of justice is another matter. Lying to a legally authorized government investigator can lead to an obstruction charge. This is true whether one is being questioned under suspicion of committing a crime or is just being questioned as a possible witness.
In federal actions, when there is an action actually pending, a person can be charged with obstruction in civil as well as criminal matters. In Montana, state charges of obstruction can only be brought in criminal cases. In any event, the rule of thumb to be followed in legal proceedings is to tell the truth. Although Barry Bonds was eventually exonerated, his evasion of questions before a grand jury caused him over a decade of legal headaches.
If you need legal counsel in a criminal matter at the state or federal level, or in a civil rights matter, the lawyers at Tipp & Buley can help. We can advise you regarding the protection of your rights during the investigative process and represent you if charged with a crime. Call us at 406-549-5186 or visit our website.