The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned the indecent assault conviction of Bill Cosby on Wednesday and ordered his release from prison. Cosby had served just under three years of his three-to–ten-year sentence, according to the Associated Press (AP). The Court found that Cosby was denied protection against self-incrimination.
The court said it found an agreement with a previous prosecutor, D.A. Castor, that prevents Cosby from being charged in the case. According to the AP, District Attorney Kevin Steel, who had seen to Cosby’s arrest, had actually been obligated to uphold his predecessor’s promise to not charge Cosby.
Steele’s predecessor mad this promise when Cosby gave an incriminating testimony in the civil suit of Andrea Constand, who accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her several decades ago. However, the AP reports there is no evidence this promise by the former district attorney was ever put in writing.
The court wrote in its decision that overturning Cosby’s conviction and barring any further prosecutions “is the only remedy that comports with society’s reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system.”
Not a word in the court’s decision exonerates Cosby of his crimes. The court did not question his guilt in any way. But the Constitution must be followed even when it means that guilty people go free.
It is easy in hindsight to question D.A. Castor’s decision in 2005 not to prosecute Cosby because of what he considered evidentiary difficulties in obtaining a conviction. Of course, had Castor not mad that decision, Cosby would not have had to answer questions at his deposition, and perhaps without that testimony he would not have been convicted in his 2018 trial.
Cosby, now 83, was convicted on three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault in 2018 of drugging and assaulting a woman in 2004, and was serving a three- to-10-year sentence. He has served nearly three years of the sentence. The state Supreme Court said Cosby cannot be retried on the same charges.
In this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had to determine only whether a promise had been made to Cosby that he would not be criminally prosecuted, a promise upon which he relied. One the court found that here had been such a promise, it had no choice but to enforce the Constitution and overturn the conviction.
There is a cost to having a Constitution that protects the guilty as well as the innocent. But it is the only way that all of our rights can be secured from abuses by the government.
The actor and comedian was released from a state prison in Pennsylvania just before 2:30 p.m. today, just about 2 hours after the court’s ruling, a correction department spokesperson said.