The Barry Bonds Verdict

Another celebrity trial shines a light on our bizarre justice system.

Barry Bonds was found guilty yesterday of obstruction of justice–which most analysts considered the weakest of the charges against him–but no verdict was reached on the three perjury charges, so a mistrial was declared on those counts.

Those hoping the trial would end whatever doubt there was about whether Bonds used steroids were disappointed. As ESPN put it,

Just like the whole Steroid Era: We’ll never really know.

Even the one charge that left Barry Bonds a convicted felon didn’t specify steroids.

Instead, a federal court jury found the home run king guilty of obstruction of justice Wednesday for giving an evasive answer under oath more than seven years ago. Rather than say “yes” or “no” to whether he received drugs that required a syringe, Bonds gave a rambling response to a grand jury, stating: “I became a celebrity child with a famous father.”

The decision from the eight women and four men who listened to testimony during the 12-day trial turned out to be a mixed and muddled verdict on the slugger that left more questions than answers.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston declared a mistrial on the three charges that Bonds made false statements when he told a grand jury in December 2003 that he never knowingly received steroids and human growth hormone from trainer Greg Anderson and that he allowed only doctors to inject him.

Defense lawyers will try to persuade Illston or the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to toss out the lone conviction. Federal prosecutors must decide whether it is worth the time and expense to try Bonds for a second time on the deadlocked charges.

As I’ve noted before, I didn’t think this merited trying Bonds a first time.  The results on the three outstanding charges are interesting:

Amber, a 19-year-old blonde woman who was the youngest juror, said the final votes were 8-4 to acquit Bonds of lying about steroids and 9-3 to acquit him on lying about HGH use. The panel voted 11-1 to convict him of getting an injection from someone other than his doctor, with one woman holding out, she said.

It’s rather odd that  4 people were convinced on steroids, 3 on HGH–and 11 agreed he was getting injected with something!

Regardless, while I fully comprehend that a hung jury is not the same as an acquittal, I don’t understand philosophically why–with the exception of mistrials caused by malfeasance on part of the defense–the state’s failure to convict shouldn’t be the end of it. Forcing a defendant to undergo a second trial while prosecutors get a second bite at the apple sure seems a lot like double jeopardy. That’s especially true for defendants who aren’t mega-wealthy superstars like Bonds. Simply enduring the financial burden of a second trial would be devastating for most.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Sports, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Boyd says:

    8-4 to acquit and 9-3 to acquit sounds more like 4 jurors thought he had used steroids, while 3 thought he had used HGH. I’m not following your math, James.

  2. Southern Hoosier says:

    It’s rather bizarre that only 4 people were convinced on steroids but 9 were on HGH–and 11 agreed he was getting injected with something!

    Just goes to show the quality of people we get on juries now days. I wonder how many of them served at the OJ trial?

  3. I don’t see the confusion, honestly. How is it logically a problem to think that he was injecting something but you don’t know what it was? That just sounds like intellectual honesty to me.

  4. Granted, I haven’t been following this case at all and have no idea what the actual evidence is. But I can easily construct example evidence in my head that would lead a reasonable person to this conclusion.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Boyd: I misread it, thinking they were 8-4 for convicting on steroids and 9-3 for acquitting on HGH; it was acquittal for both.

  6. Boyd says:

    Whew! It’s reassuring the problem here is your senility, not mine.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    I believe allowing retrial of a “hung jury” is a partial remedy for the excesses of requiring a unanimous verdict. The system doesn’t want to be completely polarized by what can turn out to be one or two cranks that sit on the jury.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @PD Shaw:

    But the prosecutor gets to help choose the jury. And, in this case at least, the strong plurality favored acquittal on the two main counts.

  9. Quite frankly, this trial seemed like a waste of time and money from the beginning. I am not sure what ultimate purposed is served by the whole affair.

  10. PD Shaw says:

    Prof. Taylor, I suspect this is one of those instances where if your name was Joe Schmoe, you don’t get prosecuted for this.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    Joyner, both sides get a chance to kick people off the jury. They don’t necessarily get to ask all the questions they may want, and they get a set number of challenges to exercise. It’s closer to phrenology than science, which is why there is a large industry of highly paid fortune-tellers that ply their trade in this.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    Prof. Taylor, I suspect this is one of those instances where if your name was Joe Schmoe, you don’t get prosecuted for this.

    Certainly Joe Schmoe wouldn’t give an evasive answer about “a celebrity child with a famous father” to a direct question…