Monday, April 4, 2011

The Circus is in Town

By Clinton Riddle

P.T. Barnum once said, "There's a sucker born every minute." Or so they say he said.

If you believe what erstwhile slugger and (alleged) perjurer Barry Bonds will tell you, then you don't need to look around for that sucker. It's you.

As the jury selection for the trial against Bonds and his entourage of legal eagles begins in the city which bore witness to his historical feats on the diamond (and egregious feats off of it), the circus arrives with it. There's a tent for the ravenous, drooling media, lying in wait for that first juicy, scandalous morsel to fall from the judge's bench. Then there's a tent for the innumerable hangers-on which have fed themselves on Bonds' leftover scraps of fame for years. Yet another tent has been raised for the various witnesses, teammates, scientists, trainers, and ex-girlfriends who each play a role in this ongoing spectacle. And Barry's the ringmaster.

A note for those of you who may have the wrong idea concerning the human drama that is the life and times of professional baseball's career home run leader: whatever you happen to read, hear, watch on "SportsCenter," etc., this is not solely about bringing an (alleged) criminal to justice. This is not just about the (alleged) use of performance-enhancing drugs; in fact, the potential jurors for this trial were specifically instructed to concentrate on the charge of perjury, and disregard the allegations of steroid use. Personally, I don't see how the two can be separated, but that's just me.

This is about payback.

You see, Barry Bonds is not just some nickel-and-dime crook, a common street thug, or a petty thief. Barry Bonds now holds sole possession of what is arguably the most highly regarded record in all of sports, and he was able to set the mark due (allegedly) to his use of PEDs. That's not something that many people will be able to easily forget or set aside, and therein lays the problem. Finding 12 men and women who:

1. Haven't been following the continuing saga of Bonds and his (alleged) use of PEDs, and
2. Would not be inclined to make prejudiced decisions regarding the aforementioned charge of perjury because of their feelings about said use of PEDs.

Would have to be extremely difficult, at best, and, as this trial is taking place smack-dab in the middle of Barry's longtime stomping grounds, quite near impossible at worst. At this stage in the game, I'm leaning toward the latter.

In any case, perjury cases are notoriously hard to prove one way or the other, and this particular trial is taking place EIGHT FREAKING YEARS after the (alleged) perjury occurred. This is not a matter of whether or not Bonds used steroids; it's about whether or not he lied about it. And that's why this case is going to be such a difficult one. How do you separate one from the other?

In order to prove perjury, there has to be a clear definition of what question was asked, as well as the specific answer given by Bonds at the time. Sounds simple, yes? No. Here's why, according to Professor Godfrey of Chicago-Kent College of Law:

"The falsehood has to be clear, so the questions must be clear. If someone answers a question with a question and the interlocutor never pins him down to an answer, the government can't show that there is a falsehood ... just an ambiguity."

What Bonds told the judge eight years ago was that he never knowingly used steroids. That statement alone could ultimately be the undoing of the prosecution. He never knowingly used steroids. So how do you prove he did or didn't know what he was putting into his body? That is, besides the common sense argument that a player as obsessive, driven, stubborn, and controlling as Bonds would ever allow anything to be rubbed onto, injected into, or otherwise ingested within his body without his knowing precisely what benefit he would receive from doing so? Problem is, common sense is not a valid argument, at least not in a court of law. Shocking, I know.

Nevertheless, there will be plenty of potential jurors who'll want to go with the common sense angle, regardless of what they tell the attorneys during the selection process. In fact, common sense ought to tell said attorneys that they'd have to ask for a 10-year continuance just to find twelve people who won't have that sort of opinion about Bonds. He didn't exactly go out of his way to win friends and influence people throughout his career, and that's not going to help him a whole lot. Yes, it shouldn't come into play in the legal process, but it often does, and you can bet it will this time. Only the horribly naïve would believe otherwise.

When you couple Bonds' legendary ability to poison the opinions of others about him with the amount of time which has already passed since this whole debacle began, as well as the nature of the accusation involved and the (alleged) use of steroids by said defendant, it's not likely that Bonds will receive an unbiased verdict from any group of 12 jurors in this hemisphere. As far as public opinion is concerned, that verdict was passed years ago, and in any event will affect the future of Mr. Bonds far longer than any perjury conviction ever would. Thus, the perjury charge is a moot point. It might as well be a traffic violation.

So while the dancing elephants wait their turn next to the lion tamers and the clown cars, Barry will take to the sky for his high-wire act.

How long before he finally realizes that he's working without a net?

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