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The man once referred to as America’s Dad, Bill Cosby, is a free man after the highest court in Pennsylvania overturned the 83-year-old comedian’s 2018 sexual assault conviction on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. His trial was the first of several against high-profile men during the #MeToo movement.
Cosby was sentenced to 3-10 years for three counts of indecent assault and battery for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. He had served nearly three years of his sentence in a maximum-security prison at the time of his release.
In May, he was denied parole because he refused to participate in sex offender programs during his incarceration. Cosby, still professing there was no assault, said he preferred to serve his full sentence.
His lawyers filed several appeals on his behalf. However, two lower courts and three Pennsylvania Superior Court judges refused to overturn his conviction.
While not obligated to hear the case, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s decision to do so was announced a week ago; Wednesday, June 23. A panel of seven justices would determine the case based on two factors — a sovereign edict and prior bad acts.
The edict in question was a deal between the then-district attorney and the comedian in 2005. Bruce Castor promised Cosby would not be prosecuted if the actor agreed to testify in a deposition in the civil case brought by Constand.
Believing he was immune from prosecution, Cosby answered the questions brought by Constand’s attorney. His testimony included an admission that he used quaaludes during consensual sexual encounters in the 1970s.
Between the #MeToo fervor, public sentiment, and the damning testimony, prosecutors were spurred on to file charges against Cosby days before the statute of limitations ran out on the 2005 complaint.
“Prosecutor Kevin R. Steele…brought criminal charges against Cosby in 2015 after succeeding Castor as the county’s district attorney,” reports CBS News.
Steele introduced prior bad acts when he used Cosby’s incriminating deposition testimony against him during the trial.
Supreme Court’s Ruling
In its 79-page decision, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania determined the sovereign edict was valid and the fruit of the resulting deposition should not have been used in the criminal case. Their decision “was a 6- to 1 ruling, with two of the judges in the majority dissenting on the remedy, which barred a retrial,” according to The New York Times.
Justice David Wecht wrote the court’s decision, which found in Cosby’s favor. He should not have been prosecuted because he was not afforded due process, they determined.
“The discretion vested in our Commonwealth’s prosecutors, however vast, does not mean that its exercise is free of the constraints of due process.” Accordingly, Steele was obligated to uphold his predecessor’s agreement with the comedian.
Essentially, Cosby was harmed in this situation. The justices used harsh language to describe the situation in their determination; they said he was “the victim of an unconstitutional ‘coercive bait-and-switch,'” according to CBS News.
Castor told the court he made the agreement with the actor because he believed there was not enough available evidence to successfully prosecute the case; a statement he also made publically in 2005.
After the decision was read, Castor stated he was right the case was unwinnable, “and as it turns out, it could not be won,” referencing the 2017 mistrial and the subsequent second trial in 2018 — the convictions the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania overruled today.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
AP: Bill Cosby freed from prison, his sex conviction overturned; by Maryclaire Dale
CBS News: Bill Cosby released from prison after conviction vacated; by Lindsey Davis, Aaron Katersky, and Bill Hutchinson
CBS News: Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear part of Bill Cosby appeal; by Meredith Deliso and Chris Francescani
The New York Times: Bill Cosby Freed as Court Overturns His Sex Assault Conviction; by Graham Bowley and Julia Jacobs
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License