Yesterday the Barry Bonds trial ended with a single conviction for obstruction of justice and a mistrial declared due to a hung jury on the other three remaining counts. There were originally five counts in the indictment, but count four was dismissed prior to the case being given to the jury. The case was in front of Judge Susan Illston in the Northern District of California (NDCA) District Court.
Of the four counts given to the jury, the three mistried were for what is commonly referred to as perjury, but formally described as false declaration before a grand jury or court under 18 USC 1623(a). The jury votes on those three counts now dismissed via mistrial were 9-3 acquit (HGH use), 8-4 acquit (steroid use) and 11-1 convict (the injection count). As always, I strongly suggest that reading very much into such numbers on hung counts is foolish; the dynamics behind such numbers are never simple, and never what you think they are. Most media types covering the trial have, almost universally, stated they do not expect a retrial on the three hung counts. I think such a statement is premature, and somewhat ill advised, under the circumstances as the likelihood of a retrial will be dependent on what Judge Illston does with the coming motion to set aside the verdict and, assuming that is denied, the sentencing of Bonds.
The fascinating question right now, however, is exactly how firm is the obstruction conviction? The answer is maybe not so firm at all. When I first heard there was a partial verdict, I thought – as did several others around me – that it was likely a conviction and hung jury on the other counts. Well, that was exactly right, however I assumed the conviction would be on the injection count; never contemplated for a second that the jury would not convict on any of the substantive predicate counts but still convict on the catch-all obstruction count. So, let’s take a look at that count, and the conviction thereon, because there are some serious issues involved that tend to undermine its strength above and beyond the fact there were no convictions on the underlying counts.
The obstruction count is charged under 18 USC 1503, which reads:
Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede any grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court of the United States, or officer who may be serving at any examination or other proceeding before any United States magistrate judge or other committing magistrate, in the discharge of his duty, or injures any such grand or petit juror in his person or property on account of any verdict or indictment assented to by him, or on account of his being or having been such juror, or injures any such officer, magistrate judge, or other committing magistrate in his person or property on account of the performance of his official duties, or corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b). If the offense under this section occurs in connection with a trial of a criminal case, and the act in violation of this section involves the threat of physical force or physical force, the maximum term of imprisonment which may be imposed for the offense shall be the higher of that otherwise provided by law or the maximum term that could have been imposed for any offense charged in such case.
Now the astute reader will note there is no materiality requirement in the direct language of 18 USC 1503. However, a prior case in the 9th Circuit, US v. Thomas, has held that materiality of the obstructive conduct is indeed a necessary element for a conviction under 18 USC 1503.
In light of Ryan and Rasheed, we conclude that although not expressly included in the text of § 1503, materiality is a requisite element of a conviction under that statute. Our conclusion does not, however, mandate a reversal of Thomas’s obstruction conviction, because it is clear that the jury found the requisite element of materiality in convicting Thomas on count six. The jury unanimously returned a special verdict on Thomas’s § 1503(a) charge indicating that the false statements alleged in counts one and three of Thomas’s indictment obstructed justice, and the jury in turn had found Thomas guilty of making material false statements with respect to counts one and three. By convicting Thomas of perjury on counts one and three, the jury necessarily found the statements in those counts to be material. And by indicating in a special verdict form that these statements obstructed jus- tice, the jury necessarily found that Thomas’s obstruction conviction was based on two material statements.
Several things are interesting here. First off, the Thomas decision was authored by the infamous torture memo author Jay Bybee. More importantly, however, Thomas was yet another in the long line of BALCO Read more