Monday, March 3, 2008

Bonds Indictment Update

Many thanks to SayHey for this Q&A about U.S. District Judge Susan Illston's decision to order the U.S. Attorneys prosecuting Barry Bonds for perjury to redraw their indictment. Although I don't have any more knowledge about this case than anyone else, I think I might be able to shed some light on this development.

First, about me: I am spending my first year out of law school clerking for some judges. I help them research and draft opinions, which means I have access to case files. I'm fairly familiar with litigation.

Personally, I think that the media is making a lot out to this. My experience has been that cases take on a life of their own. Attorneys will file complaints with a general idea of what has gone wrong (or right), and then through the life of the case they will fill in the details. They don't really have all the facts at the outset, and oftentimes attorneys will amend their complaints or indictments in order to refine the issues that will be answered during trial. I think that's the case here.

Generally, federal crimes have a five-year statute of limitations. Bonds' testified before the grand jury in December, 2003. The indictment was brought in November, 2007. The U.S. Attorneys had about 13 more months to bring their indictment, but it's very likely that they felt they couldn't get any more facts about Bonds' alleged steroid use unless they could use some of the investigative powers they'd get only through filing an indictment. Things have changed in the last couple of months, without a doubt, and the judge clearly believes that the prosecution ought to be more particular about why it believes Bonds lied. That will very likely mean we'll be seeing some new details emerge about when, why, and how the prosecution believes Bonds lied.

That's about all I can offer. Does anyone know when the amended indictment is due?


SayHey Kid said...

I did notice from the article that its very rare for a Federal indictment to be redrafted.

Do you think this is Judge Illston's way of calling the prosecutions bluff??

Dewey, Cheatem, & Howe said...

Well, I think its fairly routine actually (to quote Silverman from the Yahoo! article "Prosectuors routinely amend indictments until they get the charges just right in the eyes of the presiding judge").

I'd say that its more likely that, given Bonds celebrity status, the judge felt uncomfortable letting the US Attorneys go on a wild goose chase through Bonds' personal life. We've all heard wild stories about him, but the point here is answered the question of whether he lied. Other information might come to light, but in theory, the attorneys will be limited to investigating his drug use. They shouldn't, for example, be looking into irrelevant information about his taxes, who he's been sleeping with, or other things that don't have any bearing on whether he lied to the grand jury but that would make him look like a monster.

I'm guessing that the indictment, which is supposed to allege specific wrongdoing, basically said the legal equivalent of "Look, he's a fucking liar, isn't it obvious?" and the judge wants something more like "On such and such a date, Barry Lamar Bonds paid so-and-so for..."

So, I think that the amended indictment will be the time when the US Attys lay their cards on the table for the first time.

Hope this helps.