Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Sports Illustrated column: Barry Bonds Verdict: Who Won?

I have a new SI colum on the Barry Bonds verdict. Bonds was convicted on obstruction of justice, but Judge Illston declared a mistrial on the three perjury counts. Here's an excerpt of my column:

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But federal prosecutors convict 90 percent of indicted defendants. Shouldn't they have done better here?

This question begets big picture and small picture responses.

Big picture first. While the 90 percent statistic has received a good amount of attention, it does not speak to considerable differences in wealth among indicted defendants and the possible impact of those differences on trial outcomes. Bonds possessed the wherewithal to assemble a team of leading defense attorneys, from different law firms and with complementary skills. The vast majority of indicted defendants, in contrast, cannot afford a "team" of lawyers. In fact, according to statistics provided by Department of Justice in 2000, 66 percent of federal felony defendants are represented by court-appointed counsel. Also, and less important, the 90 percent conviction rate is for all crimes; the federal government's success rate in perjury trials is slightly lower, at about 85 percent. . . .

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When will Bonds be sentenced and how long will he be sentenced?

First, the defense will ask that Judge Illston overrule the jury's decision. It is extremely unlikely that she would do so, as she would have to conclude that the jury was unreasonable in finding Bonds guilty.

Bonds will likely be sentenced in four to six months. In the months leading up to the sentencing hearing, the U.S. Probation Office will author a "Presentence Investigation Report" which will recommend a sentence. Bonds' lack of criminal record will work in his favor. His refusal to plead guilty, however, will count against him. Sentencing guidelines suggest that he could receive a sentence of 18 to 30 months, though those guidelines are permissive and Judge Illston will reserve the right to impose a sentence outside that range.

During the sentencing hearing, Bonds will have an opportunity to speak and offer an apology -- or to insist on his innocence. Friends and family of Bonds may also speak on his behalf at the sentencing hearing, or they can provide letters asking for leniency.

Bonds may be fortunate that Judge Illston is sentencing him. Judge Illston presided over two other BALCO-related perjury trials in which the defendants -- track coach Trevor Graham and cyclist Tammy Thomas -- were convicted, with Graham convicted on perjury and Thomas convicted on both perjury and obstruction of justice. Illston sentenced each to home confinement (Graham for one-year; Thomas for six months). While Illston could distinguish Bonds as more culpable than Graham and Thomas and more deserving of time in prison, Bonds should take some comfort in knowing Illston's sentencing in the Graham and Thomas cases.

Even if "only sentenced" to home confinement, Bonds would still experience substantial restrictions on his freedom. He would likely have to wear an electronic monitor at all times and could only leave his home with approval by his supervising officer. Home confinement, however, sure beats prison.

If Illston sentences Bonds to prison, she could opt for a sentence similar to that received by track star Marion Jones, who, pursuant to a guilty plea, was sentenced to six months in prison, two years of probation and community service.

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To read the rest, click here.