Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog


Grand Jury Investigation of High-Profile Individuals: Indictments of Barry Bonds in California, and Bernard Kerik in New York

Posted on: November 16, 2007 at 6:24 a.m.

What is a Grand Jury? A grand jury investigates civil and criminal matters in proceedings closed to the public. A civil grand jury investigates the operation, management, and fiscal affairs of the county and the cities in the county. A criminal grand jury has constitutional authority to indict a suspect after finding probable cause that he or she committed an offense. The prosecutor presents the case to the grand jury in the form of testimony and other evidence and may answer questions that members of the grand jury have concerning the law. A grand jury is not supposed to receive evidence that would be inadmissible over objection at trial. However, even if the grand jury hears evidence that would be inadmissible at trial, the indictment is not void if there is sufficient competent evidence to support the indictment. Once the presentation of evidence is completed, the grand jury deliberates in secret. A 19-member grand jury may bring an indictment when 12 or more jurors conclude that the evidence presented establishes probable cause to believe that the accused committed the offense. Probable cause is the same standard used by the magistrate at a preliminary hearing: whether the evidence would lead a person to believe and conscientiously entertain a strong suspicion of the guilt of the accused.

Why are celebrities and public officials often investigated through Grand Juries? The proceedings are secret investigations, witnesses are ordered not to reveal what they testified to in front of the Grand Jury, and thus the media is often unaware that an investigation is even happening, or the details surrounding it. The grand jury process often precludes the glare of media attention on witnesses, as well as the subjects of the investigation. The process is fair, in part, because an ongoing grand jury investigation does not mean someone will necessary be indicted for a crime. Thus, if there is insufficient evidence for an indictment, a person's name and reputation may be preserved without the taint of a public criminal investigation picked apart by the media. On the other hand, the prosecutors can coax reluctant witnesses to testify, and can take years to gather evidence and testimony they need to a build a case against a target. Also, the "secret" aspect of the process harkens back to the inquisitorial processes in criminal courts centuries ago.

Keep in mind that an indictment is just a criminal accusation made by a grand jury. The defendant still has the right to a jury trial to defend himself. Recent examples of grand juries investigations of high-profile figures include baseball player Barry Bonds and Former NYC Police Commissioner Bernand Kerik.

Barry Bonds was indicted today. The slugger became baseball's all-time home run king in August, and was charged by a federal grand jury in San Francisco on perjury and obstruction of justice charges after a four-year investigation into whether he lied under oath about his use of steroids. Bonds, 43, faces four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice, the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco announced. (The Indictment Reads: "Bonds is charged with knowingly and willfully making false material statements regarding his use of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances while under oath during his testimony before the federal grand jury that was conducting the investigation into [BALCO], and with obstructing justice in the same investigation," the office said in a news release.) BALCO founder Victor Conte pleaded guilty to distributing steroids after a 2003 raid of his company by the Internal Revenue Service, and Bonds would later tell a grand jury investigating BALCO that he may have unknowingly received designer steroid products known as "the cream" and "the clear." In testimony leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, Bonds said he believed one of the products was flaxseed oil, a claim met by doubts from those who watched him increase his previous season-high home run total of 46 to a record-breaking 73 in 2001. Bonds' insistence of unknowing steroid use launched a subsequent grand jury that investigated whether he had committed perjury.

Bernard Keric, the former New York City police commissioner and protege of presidential hopeful Rudolph W. Giuliani, appears to be drawing to a close with a possible indictment. A grand jury that has been hearing evidence for several months on whether Keric committed tax evasion and other charges, The investigation stemmed from a $240,000 renovation of Kerik's apartment in 1999. Authorities alleged that most of the work was paid for by mob-connected builders who sought his help winning city contracts -- a charge he denied until a misdemeanor guilty plea in state court last year. Before the scandal broke, Giuliani endorsed Kerik's nomination in 2004 to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik then announced he was withdrawing as President Bush's nominee because of tax issues involving a former nanny.

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Comments:

uclastudent2008 on December 16, 2007 at 3:12 p.m. wrote:

I do not like the fact that only 12 out of 19 jurors are needed in order to indict someone. Although Pizzi greatly criticized our legal system for being one that was overly procedural, I find that I am more reassured of someone's conviction, if the conviction is reached by a unanimous decision because it gives it more validity. Personally, if I was ever on trial, I would not like to be convicted by only 60% of the jury. I have mixed feelings on the fact that celebrities are tried by these juries. On the one hand, I feel that it's a good system because celebrities are constantly hurdled by the media which can greatly influence the events that take place in the courtroom. For example, the courtroom in which OJ Simpson was tried was made a complete mockery. Originally, OJ SImpson was going to be tried by a a grand jury. However, a couple days later, the grand jury was dismissed as a result of the excessive media coverage that was feared to have influenced the grand jury


Dorilee Meyer on December 16, 2007 at 3:55 a.m. wrote:

While it is theoretically a noble cause to protect a celebrity from needlessly going through a public trial by first having a grand jury proceeding, the attempt to protect their privacy sometimes backfires. This was the case in the 2005 Michael Jackson grand jury proceedings. There were numerous leaks to the press from the hearings that were made very public and certainly posed the danger of tainting the jury pool. This was particularly unfortunate because neither Mr. Jackson nor his attorneys were present at the hearings. They were, therefore, unable to defend themselves in the same legal forum. The David Copperfield case is a more recent example of testimony from a celebrity grand jury investigation being leaked to the press. These leaks defame the reputation and integrity of the celebrity and once the information is out, it is difficult to unring the bell. There seems to be an insatiable thirst for celebrity gossip in our current society and it has even become a staple in the so-called legitimate news diet. Reporters whose job it is to unearth scandals and gossip manage to obtain sources from people representing all walks of life. These sources sometimes include law enforcement and government officials. Because the extent of an entertainer's livelihood is often contingent on their popularity, these types of leaks compromise their ability to obtain a fair trial, and to sustain and develop their careers. The insidious need for gossip in the media has resulted in some unfortunate transgressions against the reputations and legal rights of celebrities who may or may not be guilty. While fame has a price, that price should not include compromising anyone's legal or constitutional rights.


ay 505 on December 15, 2007 at 1:52 a.m. wrote:

In 2005 Rafael Palmeiro appeared before a congressional committee and stated that he never used steroids. Later that week, however, he failed a drug test issued by the MLB. The government did not prosecute Palmeiro on charges of perjury but now their policy has changed. I think that the indictment against Barry Bonds sends a strong message to MLB players and to all athletes:


Devin Blase on December 9, 2007 at 4:14 a.m. wrote:

I found it very comforting to learn that a Grand Jury only required 60 % of the jurors in order for an inditement to proceed. We discussed in many classes about what we feel is appropriate ratio to pass a verdict. I always took the stance that an reasonable number should never be 100% for civil cases, and, in my opinion, there should be a ration less than 12/12 for criminal jurys as well. It is interesting to consider/ think about that, just to entertain a possibility of having a trial, you have to have a pre trial ( a grand jury), which , in itself, takes an enitre majority. THis seems to be such a protection of the american people from an over reaching hand of law, and testament that US law really does look out for every american


Steven (Matt) Gibson on December 5, 2007 at 11:16 p.m. wrote:

I think a lot of people seem to be mistaking a Grand Jury as a body that convicts or performs a duty that is ignored in other criminal and civil cases. From the explanation of the article, the Grand Jury can be likened to the preliminary hearings between each side's advocates and the lawyer to determine if there is enough evidence to got to court with. I've never heard of people being indicted by a Grand Jury and then subsequently convicted in a trial. Is this because Grand Juries indictments are strong enough to motivate most defendants to seek a plea afterwards? While Barry Bonds is being investigated for perjury and obstruction of justice, what about Rafael Palmeiro, who lied to Congress about using steroids and was then suspended by the league months afterwards for violating the substance abuse policy. I like the idea of a grand jury in so far as respecting the privacy and reputation of public figures. This prevents a lot of rumors leaked by the press from ruining those who have not been formally accused or tried on any charges.


Whitney Sloan on December 4, 2007 at 6:33 p.m. wrote:

As a major baseball fan myself, I am strongly behind Bonds' indictment. Athletes who give themselves an unfair advantage - not to mention, go on to make history due in part to that advantage - are completely out of line, and deserve whatever punishment the Criminal Justice System hands out. That said, in Bonds' case, I don't think the Grand Jury did much in the way of preventing his reputuation from being tarnished before the official indictment. Bonds has been in the center of this controversy for quite some time now, and his reputation had already taken a beating for it. However, in truly 'secretive' investigations, the Grand Jury process seems like the prudent way to proceed. I once heard the expression 'A Grand Jury would indict a ham sandwich', since the vast majority of Grand Juries end up indicting. This leads me to believe that the Grand Jury indictment process is more a formality than anything else...however, I would argue that it is still a very good formality to have, especially when bringing serious, career derailing, reputation and life damaging accusations against an individual.


Tyler Marik on December 4, 2007 at 2:32 p.m. wrote:

After playing baseball most of my life I must say the recent developments with Mr. Bonds are disheartening. Throughout his run for the home run record (post 2000 seasons) I have strongly stated my belief of his innocence until proven otherwise. While I do agree that there are strong suspicions around him, there should be no asterisk on his records, nor is his record tainted until his guilt is proven in a court of law by a group of his peers. Now what is interesting to note is the language of the charge. If one


Gideon Goei on December 4, 2007 at 2:38 a.m. wrote:

I believe a grand jury is a great option that the defendant can choose. If one is of high social status and a accusation of a crime hinders or destroys their lifestyle, it is only right to have a system which can avoid this. Since an accusation does not mean one is guilty, and that the accuser must show without a reasonable doubt that the defendant did the crime, accusations should not have any negative consequences on the defendant unless he or she is proven guilty. Of course, this cannot happen entirely, due to obvious reasons such as lawyer expense or other protocols; however, using a secret from the public grand jury is a beneficial way to have due process without injuring ones reputation. As of Barry Bonds and Bernard Kerik, when using a grand jury their reputation might be able to be saved and their careers might have been more promising. I believe this is the best way to find the truth without putting media spins into the trial system


Sandra Doumit on November 30, 2007 at 2:26 a.m. wrote:

I can understand why grand juries are used for high profile cases. We can call upon many different examples of celebrity court cases that have gotten out of hand with the involvemet of the media. This involvement can also bring trouble to the case, with people on the outside influencing the case in one way or the other. In other words; others on the outside getting involved when they do not have any relation to the case. With the privacy of the case being held this way, the case can get delt with more efficiently and quickly. The only shocking part is the fact that out of a 19 person jury only 12 need to agree for a decision. It is shocking since America prides themselves on a unanimous jury vote.


Amanda Hester on November 25, 2007 at 6:45 p.m. wrote:

In response to Kristin Bryan: a 12/19 vote is to indict a suspect, not determine a verdict of guilty or not guilty. Considering these cases are typically used for high profile cases I can understand why there is no unanimity rule. High profile cases involve well known people, whether or not a person has actually met the suspect, they might feel a connection they wouldn't otherwise feel with the average suspect. With this connection, it could be hard to recieve a unanimous conclusion. It only takes one juror to believe that Barry Bonds (as an example)--record breaking baseball legend could do no wrong for him to not be indicted. I do not believe that anyone's right are being violated by this considering the jury trial that follows in which there will need to be a unanimous vote to convict. I, too, am unclear as to why grand juries were created and if everyone (Bonds to the convenient store robber)is indicted by Grand Jury or if it is saved for celebrities. If it is saved for celebrities, what is the process to accuse the 'every-day criminal?'


Kara Edwardson on November 20, 2007 at 3:33 p.m. wrote:

Two things; first I agree with the secrecy of the grand jury indictment in that it protects those who are in the public limelight from defamation of character by the investigation. I think it is insane the amount of public scrutiny that exists for celebrities - their every move is reported on and followed already. However, that the secrecy resembles that of the inquisition makes me a little nervous. Especially because the party that is being charged doesn't have the opportunity to defend themself in any way - or at least have representation overseeing the event. Secondly, I find it interesting that the only reason Barry Bonds could be found to have commited purgery was because of public knowledge coming forth and questioning his accomplishments. If Barry were an average citizen would his actual use of steriods been so easy to mark? Is it fair that just because he had a huge increase in home runs one year to determine that he lied under oath? He probably did, but what other evidence is there? For myself, I would need more concrete evidence, like a confession to someone credible or being caught by drug testing. Finally, I am not so sure I agree with an indictment on a 12/19 majority. I thought that when a jury wasn't required to be unanimous, that the jury had to have an overwhelming vote - somewhere around 80%, and 12 out of 19 is only around 63%, that's barely over half of the vote. I think it should be a little higher for an indictment.


Kelsey Kernstine on November 20, 2007 at 4:47 a.m. wrote:

I do not think it is fair that only twelve jurors need to conclude that the accused is guilty. I think that the number of jurors to conclude an indictment should be higher. Twelve jurors of nineteen is only about sixty percent believing the defendant is guilty and I do not think this is enough to issue an indictment. I think it is great that public officials and celebrities are often investigated through grand juries. I think that often the media becomes too involved in high-profile cases, which make it very difficult to obtain an impartial jury. I also think the media plays too large of a role, playing sides in every newspaper, every magazine, every news stations or television show. This much media attention makes it very difficult for anyone to decide impartially. Also, I think many witnesses in high-profile cases probably avoid testimonies for fear their name will be in the public


Andy Blair on November 18, 2007 at 11:37 p.m. wrote:

It is interesting to learn more about how a grand jury works. It is a very useful tool for the prosecutor, and can save the government thousands in tax-payer money. It is understandable that most high-profile cases involving celebrities would involve a grand jury, because the prosecutor wants to know there is a good chance that the person did commit a crime, and that they have a chance to win. And there is more of an emphasis on win rather than finding truth because it is a celebrity's case. They tend to be able to afford better lawyers, and more lawyers thus making the case less about amount of evidence, and more on who has the better lawyer. I think that the Grand Jury is in favor for the prosecution because it allows them to build a case. But I feel it is necessary for the government to provide justice which its citizens desire.


Jade Machado on November 18, 2007 at 10:42 p.m. wrote:

I believe that the grand jury hearing (if available to all suspects...I am a little confused by this) is another valuable right granted to the accused. Grand jury hearings guarantee that law enforcement and prosecutors have probable cause that the suspect has committed a crime and should therefore be taken to trial. There is a certain stigma that goes along with being brought to trial, regardless of the verdict. The grand jury allows for an unpublicized intitial investigation. The suspects' reputation will not be tarnished if there is not probable cause. However, if the case had been taken to trial, there may be a social backlash even if the jury returns a not-guilty verdict. If the trial is highly publicized, people in the community may form thier own opinons about the evidence presented in the case. They may believe that the defendant is guily even if the jury thinks otherwise. Therefore, the grand jury helps protect innocent citizens that are wrongly accused from the negative backlash of being tried in a court of law.


Kristen Fischer on November 18, 2007 at 7:43 p.m. wrote:

I think the indictment of Bonds by a grand jury although done away from the public scrutiny is still influenced by his fame. Although the proceedings were closed to the public its difficult to imagine the members on the jury were not already familiar with the allegations against Bonds. Also once an athlete is suspected to have taken drugs it taints his/her image despite the truth beneath the allegations. By presenting evidence to a Grand Jury away from the public eye it does not seem to help Bond


Kristin Bryan on November 18, 2007 at 12:15 a.m. wrote:

I find it interesting that in cases utilizing a grand jury, consisting of twelve jurors, only a 12/19 majority is needed to determine a verdict. Part of what we've discussed in class is that many Americans pride themselves on the unanimous jury in order to convict. It is comforting knowing that defendants are sentenced with 100% jury assurancy. The required unaniminity eliminates any opportunity for feelings of doubt or regret at the conclusion of the trial thanks to the 'without a reasonable doubt' phrase. I wonder how the grand jury originated. Was it created for specific situations in order to avoid media attention and the public's following? If so then wouldn't the 12/19 verdict requirement give celebrities and officials (the most common subjects of a grand jury) a slight advantage and increased likelyhood of an acquittal? Are members of a grand jury selected in the same method as a normal jury? Do they have any experience with the law or realize the potential advantage the defendant has in facing a grand jury versus a normal one? Does this come into play in jury discussion? On a different note, Barry Bonds I find it interesting that he is being investigated for lying under oath. It seems that lying under oath could happen quite often in courts. When defendants are on the stand many have one goal - to receive an innocent verdict. Unfortunately for our system many defendants are willing to lie under oath in order to reach this goal. I am glad to see that our criminal justice system is able to catch and address issues of lying, hopefully truth will be seen and the correct verdict will be reached.


Danielle Foster on November 16, 2007 at 3:57 p.m. wrote:

More questions sir... so does everyone have to be indicted by a grand jury before going to trial? if not, why not? what would be the advantage or disadvantage of doing so? and also if not, then how else does someone get indicted? As for Bonds, if he would have just told the truth to the grand jury in the fisrt place, what would have happened to him? would he be facing more jail time than he is now, if any at all? I think it may have something to do with his home-run record being void if he was on steroids. Will it be taken away now that he has been indicted for purjury? obviously he was caught lying about taking the steroids so he was taking them and he knew he was taking them.


Kamyar Amiri-Davani on November 16, 2007 at 2:53 p.m. wrote:

Learning of Major League Baseball player Barry Bonds' indictment by a federal grand jury, I observed something interesting about our criminal system that correlates with William Pizzi's criticisms in Trials Without Truth: the overly procedural system has not only legal consequences, but historical influence as well. Pizzi asserts that American's obsession with flawless procedure manifests itself in such evidential regulations as the exclusionary rule, one of several implementations that can determine the substantiality of evidence, or lengthen of the process of its collection and thus the legal proceedings of a criminal trial. Moreover, the complexity of our criminal justice system does not only









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