Bill Cosby is released from prison. It’s a decision that is already criticized by victims of sex crimes and the general public, but lawyers solicited by Hollywood journalist say that while it’s not popular, it’s legally valid.
To be clear, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court did not make this decision based on Cosby’s guilt or innocence. Opinion centers on former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor’s promise that he would not sue Cosby, which he did so Cosby would not plead fifth in Andrea’s civil lawsuit. Constand in 2005. In a deposition, which was unsealed in 2016 following a motion by the Associated Press, Cosby discussed giving Constand Benadryl and admitted giving quaaludes to other women with whom he wanted. have sex. (His lawyers later argued that he misunderstood the quaaludes issue, and Cosby continues to deny any wrongdoing. Several civil lawsuits are pending.)
Castor’s successors, first Risa Vetri Ferman and later Kevin Steele, decided to reopen the case after this deposition testimony became public and ultimately filed charges against Cosby. After multiple unsuccessful efforts to avoid a trial, a case overturned in 2017, a second trial in 2018 that ended in an aggravated indecent assault conviction and nearly three years in prison, the Pennsylvania High Court agreed with Cosby that his due process rights had been violated. Cosby, now 83, had been sentenced to three to ten years.
“[W]We believe that when a prosecutor makes an unconditional promise not to prosecute, and when the defendant invokes that guarantee to the detriment of his constitutional right not to testify, the fundamental principle of fairness which underlies due process in our criminal justice system requires that the promise be fulfilled, ”states the ruling, which is incorporated below. “The impact of the breach of due process here is vast. The remedy must match this impact. … He must be released and any future prosecution of these particular charges must be prohibited. We do not dispute that this remedy is both severe and rare. But here, it is justified, even obligatory.
Criminal defense attorney Blair Berk highlighted the constitutional concerns. “The reason the court concluded that” the impact of the violation of due process here is vast “is because the prosecutor’s office has determined that the case should not be prosecuted criminally, Cosby told ‘he would not be prosecuted, made him give up his 5th Amendment rights and participate in the civil case, then a new prosecutor made the politically timely decision to effectively say, “Just kidding!” and prosecute him when even, ”says Berk.
Public defender turned entertainment lawyer Shawn Holley of Kinsella Weitzman also said THR this is the right decision. “While probably unpopular, the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn Mr. Cosby’s conviction was the correct one,” she said. “It is a matter of due process and fundamental fairness that the agreement between Mr. Cosby and the district attorney’s office should have been honored. The fact that the trial court ignored this agreement, in its fervor to “go after” Mr. Cosby, was a mistake and a flagrant violation of the fundamental principles of the law: that the agreements must be honored and promises kept.
Several of the attorneys have explained how those critical of the outcome might quickly label it as technical, including former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson, who now runs the wrongful convictions clinic at Loyola Law School. “People will see this as a technical detail from Cosby, but the conviction is overturned on legal grounds,” she said. “There are rules for initiating these lawsuits. They can’t use what he said under a promise of immunity.
Berk adds: “The overturning of this conviction was not based on a ‘technicality’ as many will too quickly claim, but rather on the basis clearly even those who are famous or infamous, have a right to be treated fairly and to benefit from a fundamental fair process when accused of a crime. “
The state high court stressed that a prosecutor’s word carries real weight, that an accused should be able to trust them and that the court is obligated to keep them. Whether a new prosecutor has a different opinion of Cosby’s situation, or disagreed that Castor’s promise was binding, is irrelevant. “Here, only the full execution of the decision not to prosecute can satisfy the basic requirements of due process,” the decision states. “Anything less in these circumstances would allow the Commonwealth to extract evidence against an accused who relies on the words, actions and intent of the elected prosecutor, and then use that evidence against that accused in full impunity.”
The opinion reinforces the fact that a “change of guard” cannot overrule an unconditional public decision to charge. “A contrary result would be manifestly untenable,” he said. “It would violate long-cherished principles of fundamental fairness. It would be contrary to, and corrosive, the integrity and functionality of the criminal justice system that we strive to maintain. “
Criminal defense attorney Drew Findling agrees with the analysis. “Those of us who are constitutionalists were waiting for this overthrow to send a message,” he said. “It reassures us that we cannot attack the very fabric of our Constitution when it comes to the criminal justice system – that there is due process for all. “
Critics of the ruling say it looks like a failure of the legal system. “Ultimately, decisions like this mean that survivors of sexual abuse will be less willing to come forward, fearing the legal system is stacked against them,” said lawyer Beth Fegan, who specializes in issues of sexual harassment and abuse, in a report. “I hope this judicial break will allow victim advocates to make changes to laws that prohibit survivors from holding sexual predators accountable.”
Former sex crimes prosecutor Priya Sopori, now a litigation partner at Greenberg Glusker, said the move should not deter victims. “I hope that doesn’t mean anything to victims of sex crimes,” she said. “I hope this ruling says more about a court’s desire to protect individual rights which are fundamental to our democracy and our criminal procedural system as we know it – despite the horrific conduct upon which a conviction is based. . “
While in theory the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania could appeal to the United States Supreme Court, the lawyers consulted by THR say it’s unlikely. “We cannot deny that SCOTUS has jurisdiction here, but the fact that it is a prominent celebrity, the testimony of several victims, and at the center of which is a behavior of there are more 15 years old, can create more baggage than SCOTUS. would like to unpack at that time, ”says Sopori.
“I think it ends here,” says Levenson. “He’s 83 years old. He did a few years. I think, overall, Bill Cosby’s legacy is going to be tarnished despite the conviction being overturned. He cannot become the “father of America” again.
Cosby’s current representatives did not respond to a request for comment, but his former lawyer Tom Mesereau was eager to do so. “It’s a great day for the Cosby family and a great day for justice,” Mesereau said THR. “It was the most unfair jury trial of my career.”
Mesereau, who led Cosby’s defense in his second trial, praised the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s “formidable reputation for courage and independence” and said he hopes it sends a message to those working in the criminal justice system. “We all deserve due process and the right to a fair trial, no matter who we are or what we are accused of,” he said. “You cannot deny anyone a fair trial because of social movements, or because of their politics, or because of their race. Everyone deserves the same treatment and everyone should be given due process. “