Yesterday came the surprising news that Bill Cosby’s conviction had been vacated and that he had been released from prison. That was a punch to the gut. Bill Cosby? I hadn’t thought about that dude in years. Cosby’s transformation from America’s Dad into a serial rapist was even more disheartening than Guiliani’s transformation from America’s Mayor into Trump’s worst attorney (and that’s saying something).
To provide some context for this discussion, Cosby has been accused by an extraordinary 62 women of various kinds of sexual assault and rape allegations, many of which fall in the “date rape” category. The first of these dates back to 1965, and the most recent of which dated to 2008 (so a more than 40 year career of bad behavior). However, most of these were not reported until 2014 when a lot of women who thought that they alone had been the victim of the beloved comedian and “America’s Dad” realized that they were part of a large group of women who had been similarly abused.
The problem for most of these women is that the various civil and criminal statutes of limitations that governed such actions in the various jurisdictions where they had taken place had expired a long time ago. (A statute of limitations basically provides that an action needs to be brought within a specific number of years, — often three, four or five years — from when the injury occurred of from when the plaintiff should reasonably have known that an injury had occurred.)
Enter Andrea Constand, a former college and Canadian national team basketball player who claimed that back in 2004 Cosby had invited her to his house for a discussion of her career prospects, where he had drugged her and engaged in date rape. Constand was the only of his various victims who filed a civil case in a timely fashion and was able to extract a settlement from him. She was also the only one whose case was the basis of a criminal indictment and conviction.
This case, however, is not about the guilt or innocence of Bill Cosby. It is about prosecutorial misconduct.
What happened here in a nutshell is this:
- Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor assured Cosby in 2005 that he would not be prosecuted relative to Andrea Constand’s claims. (Castor at the time did not think the evidence was sufficiently compelling to secure a conviction.)
- Constand had previously filed a civil lawsuit against Cosby, and the agreement between Castor and Cosby prevented the comedian from invoking his 5th Amendment rights.
- In civil depositions related to the Constand suit, Cosby made incriminating statements, which helped to lead to a $3.38 million settlement.
- Castor left office in 2008, and was succeeded by Risa Vetri Ferman and, in 2016, Kevin R. Steele.
- The first thing Steele did was file the sexual assault case against Cosby because the statute of limitations was running out.
- Steele then used Cosby’s incriminating statements from the 2006 civil depositions to secure a conviction in 2018.
- And that, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, said he could not do.
In effect, the Supreme Court of PA decided that Steele was bound by Castor’s agreement, and couldn’t prosecute Cosby where the comedian had already made incriminating statements in reliance on the agreement with Castor. The decision was not unanimous, and the dissents noted pointedly that Castor and Cosby never put their agreement in writing.
By the way, if the name “Bruce Castor” rings a bell, there is a reason for that. Bruce Castor, in case your wondering, is the same idiot who presented the defense for Donald Trump at his 2nd impeachment trial, at which he was mocked for his rambling and incoherent opening remarks.