Was it fair?: PA court orders Bill Cosby prison release after tossing sexual misconduct conviction

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Source: MEGA

Jun. 30 2021, Published 4:31 p.m. ET

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It amounted to an issue of fairness.

A Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court stunning ruling on June 30 was steeped in a discussion of fairness. The end result is once-convicted sexual predator Bill Cosby is now free from jail. He can not be tried again.

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The move sent shockwaves across social media and among the victims who expressed outrage at the decision.

The Supreme Court’s order boiled down to whether a 2005 decision not to prosecute Cosby was a binding agreement that should stand forever. One prosecutor disregarded that decision. The Supreme Court said she should not have, and it amounted to a bait-and-switch where Cosby gave up his rights of self-incrimination.

THE PROSECUTION

In 2005, Andrea Constand went to Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor to report Cosby sexually assaulted her in 2004 at his Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, home. The details of her complaint, Castor’s response and the legal issues are discussed at length in the Supreme Court’s 79-page ruling.

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Castor, other prosecutors and investigators reviewed the complaint. Castor decided not to bring charges for several reasons, mostly because he didn’t feel they could secure a conviction.

There were questions about Constand’s creditability, given it took a year to report the alleged assault and a lack of forensic evidence in the case.

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Bill Cosby arrives for a sentencing hearing.

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Castor then released a public statement, which he signed, saying Cosby would not be prosecuted. That statement was the crux of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Cosby believed that decision protected him from future prosecutions.

While the statement included language that the decision could be revisited, the court ruled additional public statements could be revisited, not the decision that declined to prosecute the comedian.

Castor essentially made the announcement because it removed Cosby’s 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination. That was important because shortly after the decision, Constand filed a civil suit against Cosby.

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Without the fear of a criminal case hanging over his head, Cosby could be forced to testify during the civil case process. Cosby gave four depositions for the civil case and made statements that incriminated himself. They were mostly about giving the victims drugs before the assaults.

The civil suit was eventually settled more than $3 million.

The case remained dormant for several years, and it wasn’t until media efforts to get the civil case documents released that the depositions became public. That was around the same time several more women came forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault.

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By then, it was a decade after Castor’s decision not to prosecutor Cosby. He moved to another role in government and a new district attorney, Risa Vetri Ferman, was elected.

In 2015, Ferman reopened Cosby’s criminal case and his lawyers noted the previous agreement with Casto. Still, Ferman moved forward and eventually got a conviction against Cosby. A judge sent him to prison for 10 years.

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What helped convict him were those statements he made during the depositions.

WAS IT A DEAL?

In the appeal to the Supreme Court, Castor’s statement was the main focus. Lower courts ruled that the public statement was not a binding immunity agreement, and Cosby could still be prosecuted. The lower courts decided that Cosby never specifically invoked his rights against self-incrimination during the depositions and that Castor’s deal was not an agreement that was to last forever.

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Thus, Cosby’s statements he made could be used against Cosby during the criminal proceedings.

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Bill Cosby is led from a courthouse in handcuffs.

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But, Cosby and his attorneys argued the deal with Castor meant Cosby thought he was protected from prosecution forever. It was something Castor even said, a decade later, was his intention. The decision was a move to compel Cosby to testify truthfully in the civil proceedings.

The Supreme Court described the deal with Castor as one that should have stood.

In short the court said: Cosby should have never been tried.

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TO GO FREE

“The subsequent decision by successor D.A.s to prosecute Cosby violated Cosby’s due process rights,” the court wrote in its opinion.

The court found a reasonable person would believe that Castor’s statement was essentially a binding deal that shielded Cosby from criminal prosecution. The court described the decision to prosecute him a decade later as a bait-and-switch.

“Cosby reasonably relied to his detriment upon that decade-old decision when he declined to attempt to avail himself of his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination and when he proved Constand’s civil attorneys with inculpatory statements,” the court noted.

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Bill Cosby at a courthouse.

The court found Castor’s decision was to encourage the elimination of Cosby’s rights ahead of the civil proceedings, which is why the statement was given in public.

“Under these circumstances, neither our principles of justice, nor society’s expectations, nor our sense of fair play and decency, can tolerate anything short of compelling the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office to stand by the decision of its former elected head,” the court noted.

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However, judges in their dissenting opinion expressed concern that a statement has to stand forever. They contended Cosby should be tired again, this time without the statements from his depositions.

Justice Kevin Doughetry wrote in his opinion it was information about how Cosby used drugs to facilitate the assaults that violated his rights. That was information that came from the depositions. He argued that Cosby should only face evidence from before Castor’s decision.

“We should not use Castor’s ‘blunder’ to place Cosby in a better position than he otherwise would have been in by forever barring his prosecutions,” Doughetry wrote.  

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SWIFT REACTIONS

The decision to release Cosby was met by a strong response. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections confirmed Cosby was released shortly before 2:30 p.m. on June 30.

Lisa Bloom served as an attorney for Janice Dickinson and three other Cosby accusers. She released a statement to Radar! Online in reaction to the court's ruling.

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Bill Cosby in custody.

"The 3 Bill Cosby accusers I represent and I are disgusted that he is a free man today," Bloom stated. "He is not released because he is innocent.

"He is released because a prosecutor promised him years ago that he would not be brought to justice, without even making a deal for him to do time."

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Cosby appeared outside him home a few hours after his release. Several represenatives and lawyers spoke for him, the comedian did not speak. When asked how it felt to return home, Cosby smiled and tilted his head to a rep, who spoke for him, according to video of his apperance.

"He is extremely happy to be home," the rep said. "It's really a blessing for him. He says his heart is just beating really fast."

Social media was quick to condemn the Pennsylvania supreme court's decision and Cosby. 

"Bill Cosby going free is just another way to tell women that men can do whatever they want to us," feminist author Jessica Valenti wrote. 

"We live in a world where Britney Spears has people controlling her uterus, but Bill Cosby is free. Got it," screenwriter Randi Mayem Singer posted.

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