Why was Bill Cosby released? Non-prosecution deal, 5th Amendment made court overturn conviction
While returning home from prison, Bill Cosby flashed a peace sign to the crowd as he tweeted afterward, "I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence." Once hailed as 'America's Dad', the comedian was accused of sexual assault and abuse by over 60 women from 1965 to 2008. Though he has always denied the allegations, he was sentenced to prison in 2018 for conviction in a case of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand.
After serving more than two years of his ten-year prison sentence, the comedian was released on the grounds of a "non-prosecution agreement" with a former prosecutor. The verdict was criticized by celebrities as well as the public, who expressed their solidarity with his alleged survivors. In the post MeToo era, the judgment was termed as an 'unfair trial' - as a high profile 'convicted' sex offender got away with his alleged crimes on a simple legal technicality. Read on to find out exactly how Cosby's legal team managed to overturn his conviction and purportedly closed the door for justice for the alleged survivors.
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Why was Bill Cosby released?
To understand the legal loophole that prompted the overturning of Cosby's verdict, one needs to revisit his trial and 2019 felony conviction. According to Vulture, Cosby was accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004. As per her lawsuit against Cosby, he gave her unknown 'blue pills' and took advantage of her sexually as she struggled to stay conscious. Afterward, when Constand confronted Cosby about the incident, the comedian was evasive.
In February 2005, Pennsylvania District Attorney Bruce Castor cited lack of credible and admissible evidence in the case. He stated that charges cannot be filed on criminal grounds. The following month, Constand went forward with a civil lawsuit against Cosby instead, with thirteen women as her potential witnesses if the case went to court. However, in November 2006, the case was settled by Cosby for $3.38 million.
In July 2015, Andrea Constand's case resurfaced after she filed a motion to negate the 'confidentiality agreement' of the 2005 suit. She claimed that Cosby had already shown "total abandonment of the confidentiality portions of the agreement" while denying more recent allegations against him. By that time, twelve more women had come forward with sexual abuse and misconduct allegations against the comedian.
Her 2015 lawsuit led Cosby to testify under oath in several depositions, where he admitted to having a romantic interest in Constand. He also suggested that they engaged in consensual sex three times. Just days before the 12-year statute of limitations was about to expire on the case, former DA Bruce Castor's successors reopened Cosby's case leading to trial.
The first trial in 2017 resulted in a hung jury after 52 hours of deliberations, as the jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict. A second trial happened in 2019, which saw the testimony of five women who had accused Cosby of sexually assaulting and drugging them in the 1980s. The second jury found him guilty on all three counts of aggravated indecent assault, leading to an imprisonment sentence between three to ten years.
As Cosby was serving his sentence in State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Pennsylvania, his team of lawyers appealed against the verdict. Their argument was that the testimonies of the five women during the second trial prejudiced the jury. They also added that Cosby's own testimony of drugging women with quaaludes was self-incriminating where he could not exercise his Fifth Amendment right. Additionally, Cosby's defense lawyers cited that the former Pennsylvania DA Bruce Castor had a 'non-prosecution agreement' with Cosby if he was deposed under oath.
This brings us back to 2004 when Castor agreed that criminal charges would not be filed against Bill Cosby if he provided a sworn deposition on Andrea Constand's civil case. Castor had later testified that he ruled out criminal prosecution in Cosby's case due to "defects in the case", lack of sufficient evidence, especially since Constand took time to come forward with the accusation. It was during these depositions that Cosby admitted to supplying quaaludes to Constand and other women, as well as being sexually involved with Constand. "Constand’s delay both diminished the reliability of any recollections and undermined the investigator’s efforts to collect forensic evidence," according to Castor.
"Because Castor removed the threat of criminal prosecution if Cosby agreed to making the depositions, the comedian’s attorneys successfully established that Cosby wasn’t able to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and therefore was unable to defend himself against the criminal charges," explains Vulture.
Ultimately, in the latest hearing, the court ruled in favor of Cosby's legal team stating that the depositions let prosecutors connect the instances of Cosby giving drugs to women and sexually assaulting Constand when she was drugged. Eventually, to the disappointment of his alleged survivors and their families, Bill Cosby's conviction was overturned.
In the 79-page ruling, the court stated that Cosby must be discharged, adding "any future prosecution on these particular charges must be barred.” This closes the door for Andrea Constand and all the other women who had alleged that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted them, to obtain justice.