Lessons From the Roger Clemens Verdict

Four years after Roger Clemens voluntarily testified before Congress during a hearing on performance enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball, he was acquitted of all charges brought against him from statements he made during that hearing.  Indicted in August 2010 on two counts of perjury, three counts of making false statements and one count of obstructing Congress, the case against Clemens has proved to be a lengthy and unsuccessful battle brought by federal prosecutors.  Clemens’ full acquittal came in the prosecution’s second attempt to try the case, after the first trial was declared a mistrial when the prosecution played a video tape in open court with evidence that the judge previously ruled inadmissible.  The outcome of the Clemens trial should serve as a lesson to prosecutors and investigators in similar cases which may arise as to how cases must be prepared and argued.

There are several striking factors which led to a full acquittal of Clemens by the jury.  First, is the timeframe in which Clemens was brought to trial.  Clemens originally testified before the congressional hearing in February 2008.  This was before the economy collapsed later that same year and before millions of Americans would be displaced from their jobs and homes.  The economic and political climate has greatly changed in the United States has drastically changed since February 2008.  In February 2008, performance enhancing drug use amongst professional athletes was a pressing issue for the country, as demonstrated by the fact that congressmen sought the need to hold a large-scale, widely televised hearing on the issue.  However, in June 2012–when the case against Clemens finally ended–performance enhancing drug use amongst professional athletes is arguably of the least concern to American citizens.  Thus, the prosecution faced an upward battle in winning over the jury in this case.  Although before being sworn in as a jury member, jurors took an oath saying they could be impartial, it is likely that many held the belief that this case was unnecessary and was not serving a greater purpose.  Many likely believed that taxpayer’s dollars could be better spent and that government resources and time could better be devoted to lowering the unemployment rate and fixing the housing market.

The toughest battle a prosecutor can face is that of winning over the jury.  As a prosecutor in a criminal case, you face the burden of convincing a group of people who are strangers to you that the evidence you put before them proves the defendant’s guilt of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.  This is an incredibly steep legal standard to meet.  When you are facing a jury skeptical about why the prosecution brought a case, it is even more so important that a prosecutor has a solid lineup of witnesses and evidence to present the jury.  In the Clemens trial, it is arguable that the prosecution did not have sound enough evidence to overcome juror’s possible perceptions that the trial was unnecessary. 

The weakness of the prosecution’s evidence is demonstrated by the fact that the only eye-witness they had to tie Clemens to performance enhancing drugs was Clemens’ former strength and conditioning coach, Brian McNamee.  Generally, one credible eye-witness would be enough to prove a case.  However, with an already skeptical jury and a hard-hitting defense attorney like Rusty Hardin, one eye-witness was not enough in this instance.  During cross-examination of McNamee along with presentation of his own defense witnesses,  Hardin was able to thoroughly destroy the credibility of McNamee’s account of events related to Clemens.  This largely led to the full acquittal of Clemens, as jurors were left without any other witnesses to provide an eye-witness account tying Clemens to performance enhancing drug use.

While to some, the Clemens trial stands as a symbol of the government prosecuting a case that taxpayers would prefer it didn’t, the case should actually stand as something larger.  What this case should stand for, is an example of the high burdens prosecutors face when bringing and trying a case.  Practicing prosecutors should learn from this instance to ensure that they work to bring their cases in the most timley manner possible and that when they do so, they have adequate enough evidence to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

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