SAN FRANCISCO — Attorneys for both sides were peppered with skeptical questions Thursday from a panel of judges as Barry Bonds seeks to overturn his felony conviction for obstruction of justice.
The lawyers argued in a brief hearing in front of an 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over Bonds’ conviction stemming from his 2003 appearance before a grand jury. After a trial eight years later, a jury convicted him for giving a rambling answer to a question about whether he received injectable substances.
Bonds’ lawyer, Dennis Riordan, argued that Bonds’ “unresponsive” answer did not constitute obstruction. He was immediately met with doubtful questions.
“One can mislead with the truth,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said. “One can mislead with irrelevant statements to lead a grand jury down a blind alley.”
But Circuit Judge Susan P. Graber had similar skepticism for prosecutors’ arguments that Bonds intended to mislead the grand jury, saying she doesn’t see “there is sufficient evidence” because Bonds was asked and answered the question later in his testimony.
Bonds’ jury deadlocked on three counts charging him with making false statements when he denied receiving steroids and human growth hormone from trainer Greg Anderson and denied receiving injections from Anderson or his associates. Prosecutors later dismissed those three charges.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit upheld Bonds’ obstruction conviction in a unanimous vote last year, but a majority of the court’s 28 participating judges voted to have the larger group rehear the appeal. A decision is not likely until 2015.
Prosecutors asked Bonds during a December 2003 grand jury appearance whether Anderson ever gave him “anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?”
Bonds referred to his father, former major leaguer Bobby Bonds, when he responded, “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.”
The three-judge panel ruled in September 2013 that Bonds’ testimony was “evasive” and capable of misleading investigators and hindering their probe into a performance-enhancing-drug ring centered at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.
“The statement served to divert the grand jury’s attention away from the relevant inquiry of the investigation, which was Anderson and BALCO’s distribution of steroids and PEDs,” Senior Circuit Judge Mary M. Schroeder wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel. “The statement was therefore evasive.”
Barry Bonds has already served his sentence of 30 days of home confinement and paid a $4,000 fine. He was also placed on two years of probation and ordered to perform 250 hours of community service in youth-related activities.