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Because the statute sweeps so broadly, due process calls for prudential limitations on the government's power to prosecute under it. Such a limitation already exists in our case law interpreting section 1503: the requirement of materiality. Materiality screens out many of the statute's troubling applications by limiting convictions to those situations where an act "has a natural tendency to influence, or was capable of influencing, the decision of the decisionmaking body."
Defendant, who was then a professional baseball player, was summoned before a grand jury and questioned for nearly three hours about his suspected use of steroids. He was subsequently charged with four counts of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice, all based on his grand jury testimony. The jury instructions identified seven of defendant's statements that the government alleged obstructed justice. The jury, however, found only one statement obstructive. The jury convicted him on the obstruction count and was otherwise unable to reach a verdict. The district court rejected defendant's post-verdict motion for acquittal on the obstruction count and a three-judge panel affirmed.
Can a single non-responsive answer by a grand jury witness support a conviction for obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1503?
The Court held that there was insufficient evidence that defendant’s statement was material; hence, defendant’s conviction for obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1503 is not supported by the record. The Court noted that a reversal for insufficient evidence implicated defendant's right under the Double Jeopardy Clause; thus, his conviction and sentence must be vacated, and he may not be tried again on the same count.