Wednesday, April 22, 2015

U.S. v. Bonds (9th Cir. - April 22, 2015)

Barry Bonds wins again.

He lost in the district court, which was fine with his conviction after a jury trial for obstruction of justice.  He lost unanimously in panel opinion in the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed this conviction.

But remember.  Barry Bonds is a slugger.  He may strike out a lot.  But when he hits the ball, it goes long.  Way long.

This afternoon, he does exactly that.  His conviction is overturned by the en banc court.  10-1.  A crush.  With only Judge Rawlinson dissenting.

Mr. Bonds was helped by the draw.  There were three Ninth Circuit judges on his panel.  None of 'em got chosen for the en banc panel.

But even if the composition were different, this one wasn't close.

It's no procedural victory, either.  The reversal is for insufficient evidence.  Which means that Mr. Bonds gets off entirely.  No retrial.  Nothing.  He's good to go.

There's a lot of debate internally over exactly why the evidence against Mr. Bonds is insufficient.  A debate that makes some unusual bedfellows.  Judge Kozinski writes one opinion.  Joined by Judges O'Scannlain, Graber, Callahan, and Nguyen.  (I doubt you'll see that exact composition ever again in your lifetime.)  Judge Randy Smith writes another opinion.  Joined by Judges Wardlaw, Callahan, and Friedland.

Then Judge Reinhardt writes an opinion.  Agreeing a little with Judge Kozinski (but disagreeing a little bit as well), and ditto for Judge Smith.  And Judge Fletcher writes his own opinion as well.

Then you've got Judge Rawlinson's baseball-themed dissent.

Lots to mull over.

The net result of all of this is that Barry Bonds goes free.  The other result is a victory for giving totally nonresponsive answers, even under penalty of perjury.  If you can get away with it -- if the lawyer on the other side doesn't force you to answer the question -- you're not guilty of obstruction of justice.

It's instead the American way.

P.S. - In case you're interested, here's the question and -- totally irrelevant -- answer at issue in the case:

Q: Did Greg[, your trainer,] ever give you anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?

A: I’ve only had one doctor touch me. And that’s my only personal doctor. Greg, like I said, we don’t get into each others’ personal lives. We’re friends, but I don’t -- we don’t sit around and talk baseball, because he knows I don’t want -- don’t come to my house talking baseball. If you want to come to my house and talk about fishing, some other stuff, we’ll be good friends. You come around talking about baseball, you go on. I don’t talk about his business. You know what I mean?

Q: Right.

A: That’s what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that -- you know, that -- I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see.