Friday, December 16, 2011

Interesting Legal Musing

So I don't know if anyone here read about the Barry Bonds Congressional fiasco; if not, I'll give a brief rundown. In 2003, Congress, apparently not having any national business whatsoever to attend to, decided to get involved in a private sports debate, and forced Barry Bonds to give testimony before a grand jury about steroid use. During that testimony, Bonds said as little as possible (as anyone would under the circumstances), answering only direct questions and not offering additional detail. They then had a trail to try to convict him of lying, which ended with a hung jury.

Frustrated in their initial witch-hunt, Congress instead decided to try Bonds for lying to the grand jury, which of course they couldn't prove, because it didn't happen. Instead, they prosecuted him for "being evasive" and "not saying enough to incriminate himself", which would seem like an equally far-fetched theory. Here's the obscene part, though: they convicted him! He's now facing a fine and house arrest; a far cry from the 15 months hard time the government was asking for, but a criminal conviction nonetheless. It's an abortion of justice, to be sure, but tangential to my musing...

So with this precedent, the government may convict you for not saying enough to incriminate yourself during testimony. Any testimony you provide could be judged "not complete enough" or "evasive", no matter the content, and could therefore be considered self-incriminating (even in omission, or phrasing, for example). Thus, could not one argue that any testimony provided whatsoever, regardless of your interest in a case, could be self-incriminating? If so, would that mean that anyone could claim the 5th amendment right to refuse to answer any question in court, under the above justification?

I'd be very curious if any readers with a legal background could chime in. It seems to me that this misguided witch-hunt prosecution, in addition to being ridiculous on principle, has opened the door for literally anyone to refuse to testify in any court proceeding. Thoughts?

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