3 Strange Details From the Overturn of Bill Cosby's Conviction
Earlier today, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Bill Cosby's 2018 conviction, in which the Cosby Show star was found guilty of three charges of aggravated indecent assault for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple University employee, Andrea Constand at his Pennsylvania home in 2004. “Bill Cosby took my beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed it,” Constand recalled in her victim impact statement, detailing how the alleged incident tangibly harmed her life. “He robbed me of my health and vitality, my open nature, and my trust in myself and others.”
While advocates are outraged over the move, Cosby's allies are rejoicing, a testament to just how controversial and legally complex the court's decision has already proven to be in the hours following the ruling. From why exactly the case was overturned to whether Cosby could stand trial again, here are three things you need to know about the overturn of Cosby's conviction.
1. The Decision to Overturn Cosby's Conviction Had To Do With A 2005 Deposition
The mid-2010's court cases were not the only instances Cosby and Constand faced off in the legal system. In 2005, roughly a year after the alleged assault took place, Constand reported the incident to authorities in her home province of Ontario, Canada, who ultimately passed it to police in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. After investigating the matter with then Montgomery County District attorney, Bruce L. Castor Jr., the officials ultimately decided not to file charges against the once-beloved actor, concerned the allegations wouldn't stand in a court of law. However, they still wanted to do right by Constand.
"Seeking ‘some measure of justice’ for Constand, D.A. Castor decided that the Commonwealth would decline to prosecute Cosby for the incident involving Constand, thereby allowing Cosby to be forced to testify in a subsequent civil action, under penalty of perjury, without the benefit of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination,” reads the court document discussing the decision to overturn Cosby's conviction.
No longer having the Fifth Amendment to protect him from self-incrimination, Cosby recounted what happened during four days of depositions, in which he “made several incriminating statements,” according to the aforementioned document. Cosby and Constand eventually settled for $3.4 million in 2006.
However less than a decade later, after dozens of women came forward speaking about the sexual abuse they allegedly endured at the hands of the star, Castor Jr's successor, Kevin Steele decided to arrest Cosby on charges relating back to the 2004 assault days before the 12-year statute of limitation was set to expire, citing unsealed evidence from the star's damning deposition. Cosby was ultimately found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault for allegedly drugging and assaulting Constand in April 2018.
This Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned this conviction due to the fact that evidence from the deposition was used, despite the fact that Cosby spoke freely on the incident under the pretenses that he would not be charged with a crime. “In light of these circumstances, the subsequent decision by successor D.A.s to prosecute Cosby violated Cosby’s due process rights,” the decision reads, a rationale that Cosby's spokesman, Andrew Wyatt echoed in a statement.
"This is the justice Mr. Cosby has been fighting for," Wyatt said of his client, who has since been released from prison. "They saw the light. He waived his Fifth Amendment right and settled out of court. He was given a deal and he had immunity. He should have never been charged."
However, not everyone is excited about the measure, namely Steele, who issued a statement to CNBC today regarding the decision. ″[Cosby] was found guilty by a jury and now goes free on a procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime,” Steele said. “My hope is that this decision will not dampen the reporting of sexual assaults by victims. Prosecutors in my office will continue to follow the evidence wherever and to whomever it leads. We still believe that no one is above the law — including those who are rich, famous and powerful.”
More than 60 women have come forward accusing the star of wrongdoing, including drugging, sexual misconduct, rape, child sexual abuse, and battery. Although the charges in question only pertained to the alleged assault of Constand, five additional women who claimed Cosby abused them in a similar manner in the 1980's were able to testify in an attempt to prove a pattern of behavior, the AP noted. In their decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court also said they disagreed with the judge's decision to allow the additional women to testify.
2. Cosby Cannot Be Tried Again For These Charges, An Intentional Move By The Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Now, reader, I know what you may be thinking – “Why didn't the court simply retry the case?” Although in their decision, the judges stated they considered such a move, they ultimately concluded that overturning Cosby's conviction would be the best course of action considering they deemed his due process rights were violated. “He must be discharged, and any future prosecution on these particular charges must be barred,” they wrote of Cosby, who had already served two years of his 3-10 year sentence. “We do not dispute that this remedy is both severe and rare. But it is warranted here, indeed compelled.”
Anticipating the anger of the general public surrounding the gut-wrenching nature of both Constand's story and those of the other women who say the star sexually abused, raped, and drugged them, among other heartbreaking allegations, the court elaborated on their choice, noting that while accountability is important, it shouldn't surpass due process.
“It cannot be gainsaid that society holds a strong interest in the prosecution of crimes," the decision continued. "It is also true that no such interest, however important, ever can eclipse society’s interest in ensuring that the constitutional rights of the people are vindicated. Society’s interest in prosecution does not displace the remedy due to constitutionally aggrieved persons.”
As Cosby was released from prison due to the ruling, the law prevents him from being tried again.
3. The Ruling Has Sparked Anger Among Survivors, Advocates, Relief From Cosby's Allies
As news of the court's ruling broke, several of Cosby's accusers, advocates, and survivors of sexual abuse took to social media to express their disappointment.
“I am in shock; I am stunned,” Victoria Valentino, a former model who said Cosby abused her in the late 1960's told The Daily Beast. "I’m infuriated. I can’t believe that on a little legal glitch that a serial predator would be put back out on the street. I think it makes all women feel unsupported, unbelieved, and invalidated once again. They’ve stolen our voices. They’ve silenced us. They’ve invalidated us.”
This frustration isn't exclusive to Cosby's alleged survivors, with others speaking out about how the court's ruling may negatively impact those who have been sexually abused. “I am furious to hear this news,” wrote Amber Tamblyn, a key figure in the Time's Up movement. “I personally know women who this man drugged and raped while unconscious. Shame on the court and this decision.”
Despite this evident heartbreak, the decision was met with joy and relief from Cosby's team, with his former Cosby Show co-star, Phylicia Rashad, tweeting a statement applauding the decision.
“FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” she wrote.
After facing significant backlash, the actress later issued a clarification, stating that her “heartfelt wish” is for those who experienced abuse at his hands to heal. “I fully support survivors of sexual assault coming forward,” read her tweet. “My post was in no way intended to be insensitive to their truth. Personally, I know from friends and family that such abuse has lifelong residual effects.”