Was PA court right to overturn Bill Cosby’s sex assault conviction?
- Bill Cosby is a retired comedian, actor, and producer known for his sitcom “The Bill Cosby Show.” By 2014, over 50 drug and sexual abuse allegations came out after the initial Andrea Constand case.
- On Wednesday, July 1, 2021, the Pennsylvania court overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case and released him from prison after a three-year sentence for “drugging and violating” Andrea Constand in 2004.
- He was released on the concept of “fundamental fairness.” Cosby was promised not to be charged by prosecutor Bruce Castor in 2005 when he “agreed to testify without invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,” but was convicted and charged by a different prosecutor. Bill Cosby was released on that technicality.
- Cosby was the first celebrity convicted in the Me Too Movement and was seen as a “turning point in the movement to hold powerful men accountable for sexual misconduct.”
- Tarana Burke created the “Me Too” movement in 2006 to support healing from sexual violence. In 2017, the movement went viral with the hashtag #metoo. It has become controversial as many believe the movement is “overblown.”
Cosby's conviction was overturned because of a previous deal made with a prosecutor in a civil case, which forced him to give testimony without the benefit of Fifth Amendment protections since those protections only apply if the defendant faces 'criminal liability.' The prosecutor in the earlier case apparently saw this as the best way to achieve 'some measure of justice' for the victim, as there would have been 'trouble corroborating forensic evidence without Cosby confessing.' The civil procedure resulted in Cosby paying a settlement of 'more than $3 million' to the victim, Andrea Constand, an outcome that seems unlikely without the deal made.
The justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court outlined their reasoning in their decision, which states that 'when a prosecutor makes an unconditional promise of non-prosecution [...] our criminal justice system demands that the promise be enforced.' Although this recent decision may be far from an ideal result in terms of justice for Cosby's victims, as Erwin Chemerinsky wrote for the LA Times, 'There is a cost to having a Constitution that protects the guilty as well as the innocent.' However, this is how we guarantee that 'all of our rights can be secured from abuses by the government.' It is important to note that this decision doesn't exonerate Cosby. As attorney Gloria Allred, who represented several of Cosby's victims, pointed out, this decision 'should not be interpreted as a statement or a finding that he did not engage in the acts of which he has been accused.'
Bill Cosby's sudden and unprecedented release from prison is symbolic of a systemic failure on the part of the American justice system when it comes to addressing sexual assault. Despite being convicted of mass rape, Bill Cosby has walked free after only serving three years of his sentence.
The irresponsibility on the part of the PA Supreme Court adds to the unfortunate enablement of rape culture in the United States. Despite the FBI being able to find a file documenting Cosby's victims and exact dates of particular incidents, he can walk free unscathed per the result of sloppy prosecution.
Cosby's release does not only impact the lives of his victims, but it undermines the experiences of sexual assault victims everywhere. The undeclared leader of the 'Me Too Movement,' Tarana Burke expressed frustration with the Courts' ruling, conceptualizing that it undoes the hard work of their movement over recent history. Moira Donegan of The Guardian commentates that 'The scale of sexual violence is so great, and consequences so rare, that in cases like Cosby's, a high-profile trial offers many women a moment of minor catharsis' in her opinion article. This encapsulates the potential damage associated with decisions on high-profile rape cases such as this, where the morale of society hangs in the balance.
Since only 5% of sexual assault cases filed in the United States are false, and approximately 81% of women in the country reported experiences involving sexual harassment, Cosby's release is a disheartening display of the limited progress that has been made when it comes to holding abusers accountable for their crimes.