ESPN: Sports Coverage? A+ Legal Analysis? D-

On April 13, 2011, baseball homerun slugger Barry Bonds was found guilty of obstruction of justice. The jury reached a “hung” verdict on all other counts, resulting in a mistrial. By any standard, this is a great victory for the defense.

I was preparing for a trip to Montana regarding a construction dispute while watching the coverage on ESPN, and was appalled by the comments from Lester Munson, ESPN legal advisor. Munson was so off the mark that I was tempted to vent my frustrations then and there via blog post. Unfortunately, my trip to Montana pushed this post back a bit – but days later, the misinformation spewed by Munson still has me in disbelief.

Take this excerpt from Munson’s commentary, for example:

“When the trial ended on Wednesday, however, the reasons for the prosecution were apparent. In their report to the judge, the jurors made it very clear: Bonds was guilty of a serious felony. The defense team was not victorious on even one of the four counts of the indictment. In a case where many observers expected Bonds to win, he and his lawyers went 0 for 4. There were jurors who wanted to convict Bonds on all four counts, but the jurors were unanimous only on the obstruction of justice count.”

Wow. Three mistrials and a conviction on only one count – does that mean that the defense went 0 for 4? Absolutely not. Because the prosecutors couldn’t meet the burden of proof, the jury did not convict Bonds of perjury. That does not mean the defense went 0 for 4. Munson also speculated that the government may re-try its case against Bonds “so he is not off the hook.” Any cursory observation of recent criminal justice cases shows that such a retrial simply won’t happen.

So what’s the point of this post? Take TV reporting with a grain of salt – and don’t always believe the endless chatter from media pundits.

To read Munson’s full post, click here.

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