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Barry Bonds trial opens with push to prevent 'roundabout justice'

Jury selection begins Monday in the Barry Bonds trial. A primary goal is to find jurors who will focus on the actual charges in the case – perjury – and not allegations of steroid use.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / March 21, 2011

Barry Bonds arrives at the federal courthouse in San Francisco Monday. The Bonds perjury trial is scheduled to get under way more than three years after baseball's all-time home run leader was charged with lying to a federal grand jury when he denied knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP


Los Angeles

Jury selection in the case against all-time home run king Barry Bonds began in San Francisco Monday – some eight years after he first appeared before a federal grand jury.

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It is an important moment in any trial and could be particularly so in this case, legal experts say. Both the prospective jurors and the public must grapple with the central fact of the legal proceedings: Bonds is not on trial over allegations of steroid use. He is charged with lying to the 2003 grand jury about alleged steroid use.

The distinction is critical, not least for the attorneys prosecuting and defending Bonds. One of the primary goals of the attorneys today is to weed out potential jurors who would be inclined to consider “roundabout justice” – convicting or acquitting Bonds for prejudices that have nothing to do with perjury.

From there, federal prosecutors face the challenging task of securing a conviction for perjury – a difficult prospect for a crime that is often not cut and dried. Perjury convictions depend upon proving a deliberate intent to lie.

“Proving intent can be challenging as someone may just claim that he was mistaken, misunderstood, or simply engaging in puffery or hyperbole,” says Doug Godfrey, a former prosecutor who is now a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

What the case is about

The task Monday, however, was to seat a jury. Central to that task would be defining what the case is about, says Caleb Mason, professor of law at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.

The biggest misconception in this case, is that Bonds “is not being charged with steroid use, he is charged with lying about it,” he says.

That can lead to jurors who want to convict – or absolve – Bonds of steroid use, even though that is not what the case is about.

“People often think that because a sports figure has used performance-enhancing drugs that therefore he is guilty, but this is far from the case,” says Lou Shapiro, a criminal law attorney in Los Angeles. “They really shouldn’t confuse their emotions and anger over what Bonds did or didn’t do with what he is being charged with. Perjury is an entirely different question than, ‘Did he or did he not use [steroids].’ ”


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