Is Barry Bonds Really “Safe at Home?”

There’s been a good deal of criticism about the sentence imposed on former Giants Slugger Barry Bonds in a federal courtroom in San Francisco last Friday, but I think US District Judge Susan Illston got it right. The prosecution was seeking a federal guidelines sentence of 15 months in prison, but Judge Illston went along with US Probation’s recommendation of no jail and instead imposed 30 days home confinement, two years probation, and 250 hours of community service.

Afterwards, prosecutors described the sentence as a "slap on the wrist". That may be so, but only without context. The fact is that Bonds was convicted of just one offense here, obstruction of justice (The jury could not agree on verdicts on the other three charges he was facing.), with the underlying allegation simply being that back in 2003 he "mislead" a secret grand jury that was investigating BALCO, an alleged San Francisco based steroid manufacturer, by giving "rambling non-sequitor" answers to prosecutors’ questions. That’s hardly the crime of the century, and while I don’t particularly like Bonds (and how he and other cheaters have tarnished the game of baseball) and while I do think messages need to be sent from time to time in the form of high-profile prosecutions for perjury, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering in order to maintain and protect the integrity of the criminal justice system, the fifteen months prosecutors were seeking in the case struck me as out of proportion and excessive given the facts.

To be sure, Bonds could have avoided his expensive and messy eight year odyssey by giving truthful answers to begin with or, better still, by simply "taking Five" and not giving any answers at all. But the fact is that Bonds was not being sentenced on Friday for being an unfaithful husband, an abusive boyfriend, a steroid cheat, or even a bad guy. He was being sentenced for one count, the gist of which was he purposefully went out of his way not to help the prosecution’s investigation of others when called before their special grand jury.

As a result, Judge Illston was correct to chastise prosecutors for arguing that Bond’s misleading statements were part of "a pattern of behavior that included using performance- enhancing drugs and cheating on his wife" because "he wasn’t convicted of that." Indeed, he wasn’t even charged with that. She was also correct to impose a sentence consistent with several others previously imposed which arose out of the same investigation since federal judges are required as a matter of law to "take into account the potential sentencing disparity between the defendant and similarly situated defendants" when imposing a sentence. And while being required to stay at home for thirty days at his six bedroom Beverly Hills luxury villa with its pool and 2.5 acres is obviously no heavy lifting for Bonds, two years probation is not an insubstantial period and 250 hours of community service represents a solid six weeks’ worth of time and effort.

Now I’m not one of those critics who say the entire 10 year steriod investigation was a huge waste of personnel, public resources, and tax-payer dollars, but I am saying it is important to keep things in perspective and to understand that Bonds and his Hall of Fame statistics are already serving a far harsher sentence in the one forum where everything else truly is relevant, the Court of Public Opinion.

If you have been accused of a crime and you need a lawyer to represent you please contact Brad Bailey at 781-589-2828