Television icon Bill Cosby is now a free man after he was successful in appealing his conviction for sexual assault charges.
It brings to an end a lengthy ordeal which involved multiple trials and the elderly comedian spending three years in custody.
The charges stemmed from allegations that he had drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand at his mansion.
83-year-old Bill Cosby's sexual assault conviction was hailed as a victory for the #MeToo movement, however the Supreme Court overturned this decision, allowing the former comedian to be released.
Why Was Bill Cosby's Sexual Assault Conviction Overturned?
Bill Cosby's sexual assault conviction was overturned on appeal because of a promise made by prosecutors in 2005 not to prosecute him.
Following Cosby's arrest in 2015, Bruce Castor, the head prosecutor confirmed he had told Mr Cosby he wouldn't be criminally prosecuted. This was done on the basis Cosby give evidence in a civil case brought by Ms Constand, which allowed her to win damages.
Speaking out on the decision not to lay sexual assault charges against Cosby, Mr Castor said that Ms Constand's case would be difficult to prove in court because she waited a year to come forward and had stayed in contact with Mr Cosby.
This would be less of an issue today as many jurisdictions acknowledge there may be good reasons by complainants do not come forward immediately. For example, in New South Wales, Section 294 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 requires a Judge to warn a jury that there may be good reasons by a complainant in a sexual assault case may hesitate in making a complaint.
Mr Castor said that this promise was not written anywhere except a 2005 press release announcing his decision not to prosecute. However, he also said the promise was meant to prevent Mr Cosby being criminally prosecuted "for all time".
However, during the appeal, prosecutors noted that Mr Castor had also said that he could revisit the decision in the future.
Ms Constand settled her civil case against Cosby for more than $3 million.
Mr Castor's successor, Kevin Steele, charged Bill Cosby in 2015 after a federal judge unsealed documents from the settlement. Bruce Castor has said that Mr Cosby, "would've had to have been nuts to say those things if there was any chance he could've been prosecuted".
The Supreme Court found that Mr Cosby relied on that promise when he agreed to give evidence. Had the possibility of the criminal prosecution still been alive, the famed comedian could have relied on his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
This is similar to the right to silence in Australia.
The court concluded that Mr Steele was obligated to maintain the non-prosecution agreement. As such, the conviction was overturned.
The justices wrote that "denying the defendant the benefit of that decision is an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was foregone for more than a decade".
Hung Jury in Bill Cosby's First Trial
In 2017, the first trial commenced and only Ms Constad's allegations were put before the court. The jury were unable to reach a unanimous verdict and Bill Cosby's first trial ended in a hung jury.
However, at the second trial, additional allegations from other complainants were put before the Court. This is known as tendency evidence.
That jury found Mr Cosby guilty at his 2018 retrial.
Mr Castor was also on the legal team that defended former president Donald Trump during his historic second impeachment trial over the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol by his supporters.
Accusers of Bill Cosby Speak Out
Following Bill Cosby's release from prison Andrea Constand released a statement through her lawyers. She labelled the ruling disappointing and expressed fear that it could discourage sexual assault victims from coming forward.
However, others suggested that Constand had received financial compensation from the civil case, and Mr Cosby had also spent several years in prison. As with all persons accused of sexual assault, Bill Cosby's name will forever be tarnished.
Can Bill Cosby be Retried?
The successful appeal means that Bill Cosby cannot be retried for these allegations. The concept of double jeopardy generally protects an Accused person from being criminally charged over an allegation if they have previously been found 'not guilty'.
The Supreme Court found that the dismissal of the sexual assault charges was the "only remedy that comports with society's reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system".
Mr Cosby is 83 years old. However, his sexual assault lawyer said he remained in good health, despite being rendered legally blind.
However, this does not prevent Mr Cosby being charged with sexual assault over allegations by other women.
Aggravated Sexual Assault Charges
These charges are extremely serious. The stigma that comes with them is likely to follow a person for the rest of their life. That is why it is important to obtain advice from one of Australia's best sexual assault lawyers who has successfully defended hundreds of these charges. Call Astor Legal on (02) 7804 2823. Or, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In order to prove the charge, the police must establish beyond reasonable doubt:
- The Accused engaged in sexual intercourse with the complainant, and
- The complainant did not consent to the sexual intercourse, and
- The Accused was aware (or should have been aware) that the complainant was not consenting; and
- That a circumstance of aggravation existed at the time of the sexual intercourse.
You can view some similar cases where sexual assault charges were dismissed by clicking here.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.