Friday, November 16, 2007

Hunting Barry Bonds

If you've read anything I've written about the guy, you know that I can't stand Barry Bonds and that I'm a proud member of the pro-asterisk crowd. But what looks to me to be a questionably motivated decision to indict Barry Bonds bothers me a lot more than anything that Bonds has allegedly done.

Keep in mind that this grand jury was convened just a month after Sports Illustrated published the now famous excerpt from Game of Shadows. Was new evidence brought forth in that book? Nope. As the authors themselves acknowledged, most of the allegations against Bonds that surfaced in Game of Shadows were drawn from information that was in front of that grand jury. In other words, the feds had all of the information about Bonds' conduct for more than a year, yet only after a big public splash was made did they decide to go after Bonds.

Over the past couple of years, we've all witnessed the parade of MLB superstars denying or obfuscating their involvement with steroids. This hasn't just been in front of the media; it's also occurred in sworn testimony. We all watched Raphael Palmiero adamantly deny--under oath in front of a congressional committee--that he used steroids, and then we watched him test positive for them only a couple of months later. They looked into prosecuting him, but decided against it. Mark McGwire's weepy evasiveness before that same committee could have landed him contempt charges, but didn't. What makes Bonds' case different?

Let me tell you exactly what the prosecutors will say: because Bonds allegedly perjured himself in a grand jury proceeding, and perjury in that setting strikes at the foundation of our judicial system and the rule of law. When they say that, just remember that these are the guys who gave a green light to waterboarding, so take their statements about their devotion to the rule of law with more than a grain or two of salt.

Did Barry engage in illegal conduct? most of us would probably bet that he did, but let me tell you a little secret about the American legal system: some federal criminal statutes are so broad in their scope that my educated guess is that most law abiding Americans over the age of 30 have at some point in their lives engaged in conduct that could get them indicted for at least one felony.

Remember, America hates Bonds because we think he took steroids, but that's not what he's being charged with. The feds are going after him for what he did or didn't say in the course of the grand jury proceedings. That allows them to charge him with crimes like obstruction of justice, which are particularly sweeping in their application, and are therefore particularly prone to abuse.

So, while Bonds may have done something wrong, I think that Bonds' high profile and unpopularity with the public have played a big role in the decision to seek an indictment against him. Federal prosecutors think that prosecuting Bonds will be a very popular-- not to mention career advancing -- decision. I think they're right about that, but I also think that prosecuting him is wrong. Barry is being singled out because he's a bad guy. But folks, being a bad guy isn't illegal. This is America. We're supposed to be better than that.

1 comment:

chocolate starfish said...

Please make sure you post your amicus brief supporting O.J. here, as he is the best current example of this truth as to the way justice works in America. It happens in the criminal system. It happens as to civil matters. Defenders would argue that, given limited government resources, examples need to be made of high profile people to deter others ... but the reality is more like ambitious public servants want to be associated with The Big Win to advance their own agendas (status, private sector jobs, money, Geraldo, etc.) Human nature sucks sometimes; I just get less upset about it when the victims of such are feckless douchebags ....