Record-holding baseball slugger Barry Bonds not only won acquittal of his obstruction of justice conviction Wednesday stemming from an investigation of steroids use among ball players, but the 11-judge panel also said the government cannot retry him.
It has taken 12 years of fighting by Bonds to win. But the homerun king has been cleared of charges he obstructed an investigation of steroid use in baseball.
Just giving a “rambling, non-responsive answer to a simple question” during grand jury testimony is insufficient evidence to convict Bonds of obstruction, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 10-1 decision.
Bonds had been called to testify to a federal grand jury looking into whether BALCO Laboratories supplied steroids to major league baseball players.During nearly three hours of questioning about his suspected use of steroids, Bonds at one point talked about being a celebrity child and son of a famous baseball player father.
Bonds who had been given immunity to testify truthfully about steroid use in baseball, was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Jurors deadlocked on the perjury counts and they were dismissed but he was convicted of a single charge of obstruction.
A three-judge panel upheld the conviction and Wednesday an 11-judge panel rehearing the case overturned the conviction.
“Making everyone who participates in our justice system a potential criminal defendant for conduct that is nothing more than the ordinary tug and pull of litigation risks chilling zealous advocacy,” warned Judge Alex Kozinski in a concurring opinion that drew four votes. “It also gives prosecutors the immense and unreviewable power to reward friends and punish enemies by prosecuting the latter and giving the former a pass,” he warned.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt also wrote separately to say “In my view the appropriate course in the event of material false testimony is a perjury prosecution, not a prosecution for obstruction of justice. In fact, the prosecutors tried to convict Bonds of perjury on several counts in this very proceeding, but had no better luck.”
Only Judge Johnnie Rawlinson dissented, arguing Bonds conviction should have been upheld. “There is no joy in this dissenting judge,” she said, paraphrasing “Casey At the Bat.” The majority and concurring opinions “have struck out,” she said.
Bonds played for 22 years in the major leagues for the San Francisco giants and Pittsburgh Pirates. He holds the record for most career home runs and most home runs in a single season, with 73 in 2001.
Case: US v. Bonds, No. 11-10669