Bill Cosby had his conviction for sexual assault overturned by a Pennsylvania appeals court on Wednesday, a decision that will set free a man whose case had represented the first high-profile sexual assault trial to unfold in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement.
Three years into the prison sentence of three to 10 years he has served at a maximum-security facility outside Philadelphia, the 7-member Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Mr. Cosby, 83, had been denied a fair trial in 2018.
The ruling upended the legal case against Mr. Cosby brought by prosecutors in Pennsylvania that began with his arrest in 2015 on charges of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home in the Philadelphia suburbs eleven years earlier. At the end of the trial in April 2018, the jury convicted Mr. Cosby, who for years had brightened America’s living rooms as a beloved entertainer and father figure, of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand, to whom Mr. Cosby had been a mentor and at the time a Temple University employee.
In their 79-page opinion, the judges wrote that a “non-prosecution agreement” struck with a previous prosecutor meant that he should not have been charged in the case, and that Mr. Cosby should be discharged. They barred a retrial in the case.
Essentially, the decision of one prosecutor not to charge him despite the strong evidence against him — in a context in which a heavily promoted biography could ignore the accusations entirely with reviews in major publications downplaying this or ignoring it entirely in fawning reviews — insulated Cosby from being charged by a more responsible prosecutor. As a legal argument, it’s not ridiculous on its face (the court’s website has apparently crashed, so I can’t get access to the opinion as of this writing), although many poorer victims of more egregious prosecutorial abuse will languish in prison. Ain’t that America.
…opinions are here. The dissent seems to have the much better argument to me. If Castor had formally agreed not to prosecute Cosby in exchange for his testimony that would be a strong case for a Fifth Amendment violation. But a unilateral press release that just said he wasn’t charging at the time? Pretty weak tea, although I would welcome further analysis from Paul on this.
Here is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision vacating Bill Cosby's convictions.
Concurrence/partial dissent: https://t.co/aXPMNGpupb
Dissent: https://t.co/bJCmH4OvVd— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) June 30, 2021
Here we go. Personally, I find the dissent's argument that there was no Fifth Amendment violation because a press release by Castor with no promises does not constitute an agreement that binds future prosecutions pretty convincing: https://t.co/gGxIwjTXld pic.twitter.com/X3CxkmvMoZ— Scott Lemieux (@LemieuxLGM) June 30, 2021