Why Bill Cosby’s Conviction Was Overturned and He’s Released From Jail

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Why Bill Cosby’s Conviction Was Overturned and He’s Released From Jail

On Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court overturned the sexual assault conviction against comedian Bill Cosby, just shy of three years into his sentence. In 2015, Cosby was arrested and charged with the 2004 drugging and assault of Temple University sports administrator Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia home. Cosby’s arrest and subsequent 2018 conviction was a watershed moment for the #MeToo era, marking the first in a string of celebrity figures held accountable for various degrees of sexual assault or harassment. The late-June overturning of Cosby’s case is, in some respects, another historic moment with details still developing as to exactly why Cosby is being released.

The Andrea Constand criminal case, brought forth by a District Attorney Kevin Steele, was a complex one to begin with. The statute of limitations for sexual assault in Pennsylvania is 12 years; Steele brought the case forward with just days remaining before Cosby couldn’t be charged. But the issue with the arrest and conviction is that Steele, who managed the criminal case, worked against the precedent of District Attorney Bruce Castor, who promised that Cosby’s damning testimony in the civil case would not be used to convict him in any criminal proceedings.

All of this is, understandably, confusing. Below is a full rundown of why the Cosby conviction was reversed, the stages of Constand’s case, and what is potentially to come.

A Cursory Overview of the Constand Case

In 2005, the initial civil case between Cosby and Constand started, ultimately settling in 2006. Constand alleged she was assaulted and drugged by Cosby the year before. The findings and testimonies of the case were sealed by a confidentiality clause. Presiding over the civil case, Castor was criticized for his treatment of Cosby’s pending criminal charges, ultimately deciding not to press charges. In the civil case, which was settled for $3.4 million, Cosby admitted to previously giving women quaaludes and alcohol.

Steele reopened the case in 2015, arresting and charging Cosby after his testimony from the 2005 case was unsealed. Ultimately, that case led to Cosby’s conviction in 2018, with the comedian facing time behind bars, charged with three second degree felony counts.

The issue with Cosby’s criminal case, and the basis of his appeal to the Supreme Court, comes down to two different issues. The first is that in the state’s court proceedings, five other women accusing Cosby of sexual assault dating back to the ’80s were allowed to testify during Constand’s case. They were brought forward to illustrate a pattern in Cosby’s behavior. However, he petitioned that the fairness of those women’s testimony, as it related to Constand’s case, was questionable.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided not to focus on that, finding it to be irrelevant considering its decision as it regarded the second point—a promise that Cosby’s admission of guilt in a previous 2005 civil trial would not be used against him. That promise came from Castor, the Republican predecessor to Kevin Steele and eventual Trump impeachment attorney. The issue with the agreement is that it was never put into writing. In 2005, Castor decided not to pursue criminal charges against Cosby.

Time in Court and the Overturning

Cosby spent just under three years behind bars in total—not quite the lowest threshold of his sentence. Last May, he was denied parole after refusing to participate in a sex offender’s program. But Cosby’s time incarcerated was cut short on Wednesday following the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling that Cosby’s was unfairly convicted for his crimes.

Specifically, the court focused on whether or not previous agreements made by Castor were sufficient enough to stand up in court. The court found that Steele was required to uphold the agreements made by his predecessor. To clarify, the court did not suggest that the findings, nor the evidence, in the trial were incorrect, but rather that Steele was not within his rights to convict Cosby.

In a statement from Cosby’s appeal lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, reported in the Associated Press, she stated, “Mr. Cosby should never have been prosecuted for these offenses. District attorneys can’t change it up simply because of their political motivation.” The AP also reported that Justice David Wecht wrote, the conviction was “an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was forgone for more than a decade.”

Release and Response

At 83, Cosby was released with his criminal convictions overturned. The decision was a shocking one, undeniably causing a polarizing response from those tangential to the trial. Cosby’s long-time television wife, Phylicia Rashad, spoke out with a blunt statement, stating: FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is being corrected!

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Rashad’s comments have been highly criticized online by the public and those who believe that Cosby’s conviction should stand. District Attorney Kevin Steele also released a statement, adding, “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.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, Cosby is out of jail.

Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.

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