Bonds Strikes Out: Ninth Circuit Upholds Bonds’ Conviction For Obstruction Of Justice

Posted On Thursday, October 31, 2013

Federal grand jury testimony that is true, but found to “obstruct or impede” the administration of justice, can lead to a conviction under 18 USC §1503(a).  United States of America v. Bonds, 11-10669 (9th Cir., September 13, 2013). 

In his grand jury testimony, Mr. Bonds engaged in the following exchange:

Q:        Did Greg 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 other’s 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 but 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.  Id. at 6. (emphasis added).

The Ninth Circuit held that factually true statements that are misleading or evasive can prevent the grand jury from obtaining truthful and responsive answers, thereby violating 18 USC §1503(a).  It then determined that the above information offered by Mr. Bonds was evasive, did not respond to the question asked, and did prevent the grand jury from obtaining a truthful answer to the relevant question about PED use.  The Ninth Circuit offered other examples of true but misleading statements that would prevent a grand jury from obtaining the truth:

We can easily think of examples of responses that are true but nevertheless obstructive.  Consider a situation where a prosecutor asks a grand jury witness if the witness drove the getaway care in a robbery.  The witness truthfully responds, “I do not have a driver’s license.”  This response would be factually true, but it could also imply that he did not drive the getaway car.  If the witness did in fact drive the getaway car, his answer, although not in itself false, would nevertheless be misleading, because it would imply that he did not drive the getaway car.  It could also be deemed evasive since it did not answer the question.  Id. at 10.

Witnesses appearing before federal grand juries, and the counsel preparing them, should be mindful of this expanded area of criminal exposure.  Note that Mr. Bonds testified under a 18 USC § 6002 grant of immunity, yet his evasive answers in the grand jury led to a criminal conviction.