Bonds avoids jail after conviction
Judge Susan Illston gave Bonds sentence consistent with her other BALCO rulings
Bonds has 14 days to appeal the ruling, but it is unlikely he would be successful
Prosecutors thought that Bonds deserved to get 15 to 21 months of prison time
Nearly nine years, thousands of attorneys' hours and reportedly more than $50 million of taxpayer money later, Barry Bonds has finally received his punishment for distorting the truth (he was found guilty of one count of obstruction of justice).
Considering the sizable investment of prosecutors' time and Americans' tax dollars, the punishment may seem a little light: U.S. District Judge Susan Illston sentenced Bonds, who in April was convicted on one count of obstruction of justice but escaped conviction on perjury, to 30 days of home confinement, two years of probation and 250 hours of community service. Bonds resides in a six-bedroom, 10-bathroom Beverly Hills estate that he purchased in 2002 for $8.7 million. The home, which is in the prestigious zip code 90210, was recently assessed for $10.6 million. Safe to say the accommodations are better than the prison cell prosecutors originally thought he would call home.
Once the jury's verdict came back mostly in Bonds' favor, the likelihood of him receiving a prison sentence was low. That is true even though non-binding sentencing guidelines recommended that Illston sentence him to 15 to 21 months in prison and even though prosecutors thought he deserved 15 months.
Two reasons weighed against Bonds going to prison.
First, the U.S. Probation Office, which authors an influential pre-sentencing report for defendants set to be sentenced, recommended that Bonds only receive home confinement. The report highlighted that Bonds lacked any prior criminal record and that he has made numerous charitable contributions over the years.
Second, Illston's sentence is consistent with her sentences in the two other BALCO-related perjury trials. Illston sentenced track coach Trevor Graham (convicted of perjury) and cyclist Tammy Thomas (convicted of both perjury and obstruction of justice) to home confinement. While Illston could have regarded Bonds are more deserving of prison time than either Graham or Thomas, she evidently did not. Just the opposite, actually -- the 30 days of home confinement pales in comparison to the one-year and six months home confinement given to Graham and Thomas, respectively.
Bonds has 14 days to appeal his conviction, but an appeal is unlikely to be successful. Bonds would have to show that Illston made an error during the trial or in related hearings, and that the error was so influential that it led to the guilty verdict. Bonds's attorneys have asserted that Illston erred in her instructions to the jury on how they should evaluate the obstruction of justice charge. A "flawed jury instructions" argument, however, is common whenever a defendant is convicted and typically such an argument fails to persuade an appellate court. Illston, moreover, is highly regarded for her competence and fairness and she is unlikely to attract skepticism from appellate judges.
Nevertheless, and even though confinement in a plush Beverly Hills mansion for 30 days may sound more like a reward than a sanction, Bonds still has reasons to fight the conviction. First, home confinement would require Bonds to wear a GPS tracking device at all times and he would be subject to unscheduled visits by his supervising officer. He would also need permission from his supervising officer to leave his home and would face restrictions on visits by friends and family -- typically only immediate family members can visit without prior approval from a supervising officer. While Bonds would likely be able to watch television and use the Internet without restriction, his phone conversations could be monitored. He would also be subject to imprisonment should he violate any of the terms of his home confinement.
If he accepts the conviction, Bonds would also be subject to two years of supervised probation once his home confinement ends. During this time he would perform required community service and would be subject to travel and lifestyle restrictions, including the obligation that he avoid contact with known criminals and that he report frequently to a probation officer. As with the terms of his confinement, Bonds would risk incarceration should he violate the terms of his supervised probation.
Absent a successful appeal, Bonds would also endure the status of a convicted felon for the rest of his life. This undesirable status would limit his ability to own firearms and travel abroad. In some states, though not California, it would also restrict his ability to vote. None of that may matter to Bonds, however.
Perhaps the most compelling reason for Bonds to appeal the conviction would be to increase his chances of being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Bonds will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot in December 2012; if he remains a convicted felon on charges related to steroids, his prospects for admission would likely be lower than if he can get the conviction overturned. The appeals process, however, could take years. And regardless of how the court of law views him, Bonds -- MLB's all time home run leader but also its most celebrated alleged user of illegal performance-enhancers -- may never obtain the requisite 75 percent support of Hall of Fame voters.
Going forward, Bonds still has an unresolved collusion claim against Major League Baseball. One might also wonder whether and how Bonds thanks Greg Anderson, his former trainer, for his willingness to sit in a jail cell for months instead of testifying against his most celebrated client. We may never know why Anderson was so loyal, but it was a loyalty that played a major role in Bonds never spending time behind bars.
Michael McCann is a sports law professor and Sports Law Institute director at Vermont Law School and the distinguished visiting Hall of Fame Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law. He also serves as NBA TV's On-Air Legal Analyst. Follow him on Twitter.