In an earth-shattering ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week overturned Bill Cosby’s 2018 sexual assault-related conviction. The 83-year-old comedian and actor was three years into a 10-year prison sentence in the state.
The court found that a non-prosecution agreement Cosby struck with a former prosecutor in 2005 meant that Cosby never should have stood trial. The court also barred a retrial, allowing Cosby’s immediate release from prison.
Cosby was arrested in 2015 and convicted in 2018 on three counts of indecent aggravated assault relating to a 2004 incident in which he drugged and assaulted Andrea Constand, an employee of Cosby’s alma mater Temple University, at Cosby’s home outside of Philadelphia.
While under investigation for the case involving Constand, more than 60 women came forward alleging a decades-long pattern of Cosby drugging and then assaulting women. It was a spark for the #MeToo movement that has shone a brighter light on sexual assault and the struggles women have faced getting justice.
His trial also featured the testimony of five other women who claimed to be Cosby’s victims. Pennsylvania law allows testimony like this to establish a pattern of behavior.
A three-judge appellate court in Pennsylvania upheld Cosby’s conviction in 2019, ruling that he received a fair trial and that the women’s testimony was proper. In May, the Pennsylvania Parole Board rejected Cosby’s request for parole because he refused to participate in a prison program for sexual offenders. Cosby has always maintained his innocence.
Why Cosby Is Getting Out
When first investigating Constand’s allegations in 2005, then-Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor Jr. said that there was not enough evidence to prosecute Cosby, and he told the comedian the same. Castor said that he made the non-prosecution agreement to persuade Cosby to testify in Constand’s lawsuit against the comedian.
It was in that testimony where Cosby admitted to giving quaaludes, a powerful sedative, to women he was attempting to have sex with. That testimony was then used in the 2015 case after more women started coming forward with allegations against Cosby.
Castor testified in a 2016 hearing that he believed he was giving Cosby a guarantee of avoiding prosecution on this case for life. "My belief was that I had the power to make such a statement," he said, even though he never made the agreement in writing.
However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found in a 4-3 ruling that verbal agreement was enough to violate Cosby’s due process rights when current District Attorney Kevin Steele decided to prosecute. Essentially, the Supreme Court found that Cosby would not have tossed aside his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination had he known he would later be prosecuted.
The majority opinion found that Cosby’s trial was "an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was forgone for more than a decade."
The court did not weigh in on the additional victims’ testimony, calling it a moot point because the non-prosecution agreement meant Cosby never should have been arrested and charged. Dissenting judges argued that the evidence from Cosby’s testimony in the lawsuit should have been thrown out, which could have led to a retrial.
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- Prior Bad Acts: Who Can Testify in Bill Cosby’s Criminal Trial? (FindLaw’s Blotter)
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