United States v. Bonds

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 09-13-2013
  • Case #: 11-10669
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Schroeder for the Court; Circuit Judges Hawkins and Murguia
  • Full Text Opinion

Under 18 U.S.C. § 1503, statements that are misleading or evasive, though nevertheless factually true, can support a conviction for obstruction of justice.

In 2003, the government investigated an alleged steroid distribution involving Barry Bonds and the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative. The government called Bonds to testify in front of a grand jury to investigate the possible laundering of the proceeds of the sales of performance enhancing drugs. After his testimony, Bonds was charged with and convicted of obstructing justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1503. Bonds appealed his conviction to the Ninth Circuit. The panel held that under § 1503, an answer need not be decisively false to sustain a conviction; facts uttered that are unrelated to the question impede the grand jury from obtaining truthful answers. Thus, § 1503 applies to evasive or misleading “factually true statements.” The panel found that Bond’s response, when asked about whether his trainer ever gave him self-injectable substances, describing life as a child celebrity was sufficient evidence to uphold his conviction. The panel went on to note that the “essence of the statute is that it criminalizes conduct intended to deprive the factfinder of relevant information.” Here, the panel found Bonds’s statements to be “capable of influencing the grand jury to minimize the trainer’s role in the distribution of performance enhancing drugs.” Briefly addressing Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court precedent, the panel rejected Bonds’s claim that § 1503 does not apply to a witness’s statements before a grand jury. United States v. Rasheed and United States v. Aguilar both determined that § 1503 applies to statements before grand jury proceedings. The panel considered § 1503’s use of the word “corruptly” as an appropriate mens rea for the statute and rejected Bonds’s claim that the word is unconstitutionally vague. Relying on Rasheed, the panel found the term to mean “that the obstructive conduct ‘must be done with the purpose of obstructing justice.’” AFFIRMED.

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