Lance Armstrong competes in the 2010 Tour de France.

Despite the supposed secrecy of grand jury proceedings, several media outlets have reported on various aspects of a federal investigation into American cyclist Lance Armstrong, currently competing in what he has said will be his last Tour de France. The seven-time champion has faced an array of obstacles on and off the course this year. Several costly falls have all but doomed his hopes for a victorious final Tour, while renewed scrutiny of doping allegations threatens to tarnish his highly polished image.

French prosecutors have been investigating Armstrong’s 2009 team, Astana, after authorities raided a team vehicle during that year’s race and found syringes onboard. Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are apparently looking into the allegations. Doug Miller, a federal prosecutor, has reportedly convened a grand jury in the Central District of California. Greg Lamond, three-time Tour de France winner — and ardent critic of Armstrong — has stated publicly that he has received a subpoena. Trek Bicycle Corp., which has sponsored numerous Armstrong teams, may also have been served, though a spokesman for the company refused to comment on the matter.

Mr. Miller, of BALCO fame, may prove as formidable an adversary as any competitor Armstrong is facing on the roads of France. Ironically, Miller obtained a long prison sentence for Troy Ellerman, a defense attorney in the BALCO case, who was convicted of leaking grand jury testimony to reporters. Now Tim Herman, Armstrong’s attorney, has accused Miller of damaging his client’s reputation by spilling details of the Armstrong investigation to the New York papers, while refusing to provide the target of the investigation with any information about the probe. Armstrong himself has promised to cooperate with the inquiry, so long as it does not become a “witch hunt.”

While rumors of doping have swirled around Armstrong for many years, the accusations gathered new force recently. Another American cyclist, Floyd Landis, abruptly admitted his involvement in doping and pointed incriminated his former teammate – Lance Armstrong. Landis was stripped of his own Tour de France victory in 2006, after he tested positive for a banned substance. Armstrong has repeated protested his innocence and rebuked the allegations of his disgraced teammate.

One might consider whether Armstrong, who has yet to be indicted for any crime, should have to answer accusations arising from a legal proceeding he has no right to attend. The institution of the federal grand jury serves two distinct interests. On the one hand, its subpeona power provides prosecutors with the means to investigate crimes. Secrecy obviously advances this interest, as the target need not be aware of the investigation.

On the other hand, the constitutional requirement that grand juries — not prosecutors — issue indictments also protects the citizenry from unfounded accusations by the federal government. Of course, even frivolous allegations may cause irreparable harm, so the secrecy of grand jury proceedings is necessary to protect this interest as well. Any leaks to the press eviscerate this important safeguard.

As the investigation reportedly widens to include his business arrangement with the team, Armstrong has been left to wonder whether – and when – his day in court will come.

Nathan McGregor

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One Response to It's Not About The Bike

  1. Movie Buff says:

    I really admire Lance Armstrong and his biography was truly inspiring! Good to see him still fit, well and still racing..